Mum’s story – why breast is best

With the birth of her second child imminent, Clara Hugh is looking forward to breastfeeding again – despite some unglamorous drawbacks…

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“I’m popping into Peckham, do you need anything?” asked hubby the other day.

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“Well, if you’re going past Boots there are a few things,” I replied, smoothing grapeseed oil over my 8 ½ month pregnant belly. I watched him wince as I listed the items every new mum needs: “Disposable pants, super-size panty liners, nipple cream – get Lansinoh or none at all – and breast pads. Oh and could you pop into Mothercare and get me a twin pack of 36C nursing bras?”

Having been through childbirth once, I know what’s required for the aftermath. At the end of 9 exciting, gruelling months, us gals get the chance to turn our boobs over to their true destiny. But for those who have never done it before, the world of breastfeeding can be a strange, sticky place that doesn’t translate easily into everyday life…

Padding out

I remember a bus journey as a novice mum when, bending down to pick up my son’s rattle, a breast pad shot out of my bra into the lap of a man sitting nearby. Our eyes locked on the errant lump of soggy cotton just before a look of horror spread over his face. I apologised, retrieved the pad and then cringed some more as I noticed the damp patch it had left on his trousers.

Another memory I cherish is a conversation I had with an acquaintance when I was still breastfeeding my first son. Midway through our chat, I got that ‘he’s looking at my chest’ feeling. When I registered concern rather than lechery in his gaze, however, I looked down to see a fried egg sized wet patch on my jumper where my left boob had leaked.

“I hate having to wear a bra to bed every night,” moaned a friend recently (she’d been breastfeeding her baby for 3 months). “It’s just such a passion killer and I get so sweaty I end up having to change my sheets nearly every morning.” Hmm. It’s hard to imagine celebs going through the same damp embarrassment as is mere mortals, despite the fact that Madonna, Catherine Zeta Jones, Jodie Foster and even Pamela Anderson all breastfed their babies.

Perks of the job

A-list approval aside, the benefits of breastfeeding are difficult to ignore. That you’re binding with your babe and providing tailor-made, immune system-boosting antibodies that every child needs is just the beginning. There’s also evidence that breastfeeding helps reduce the risk of breast cancer, and it’s a fact that producing milk burns between 200 and 500 calories a day, helping us to lose excess pregnancy weight in the most natural way possible. And not having to bother with the hoo-ha of sterilising bottles every time you want to feed your hungry munchkin holds advantages too.

Not all the press is so positive, though. Channel 4 screened a programme called Extraordinary Breastfeeding. This documentary was supposedly pro-breastfeeding, but the sight of ruddy-cheeked Cumbrian housewife Veronika nursing her 7 year old daughter while fending off demands from her 10 year old to “have a go” was just plain weird. And if that wasn’t enough, the fact that Veronika’s husband also queued up for his share probably sent anyone with doubts dashing down to their local chemist for an Avent starter kit and some formula milk.

Of course, most people don’t take things to such extremes. I stopped breastfeeding my son at 6 months. By that stage he was eating solids and was a bouncing, thriving boy. I felt it was my time to ditch the breast pads, pack away the mummy bras and head off to Agent Provocateur for some impractical alternatives.

The sense of relief at having my body back to myself was immense but breastfeeding is still an experience I’m looking forward to repeating when my second son is born next month. I always have a silent cheer when I see a woman breastfeeding in public, and still get a warm glow when I see a new mum and her child huddled in a nursing embrace.

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In a society where how we look is of primary concern, we should remember what’s really important – and leave leaky boobs, passion-killer bras and runaway breast pads aside. Because when it comes to our babies, breast is still best.

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