World breastfeeding week coincides with the start of my busiest week of the entire year. I have all 3 of my beautiful boys having a birthday between August 8 and August 12. More about that tomorrow. Needless to say that with 3 birthday parties to organise I have had trouble finding the time to write a World Breastfeeding Week post. Even though I haven’t been writing, I have been thinking. I have been tossing the theme over in my mind for the past 6 days and would love to share my thoughts with anyone that might be interested.
Breastfeeding- An Emergency response
…in devastated communities
I began thinking about this theme in the manner it was intended. Breastfeeding saves babies lives during emergency situations when food and access to clean water is difficult to come by. A breastfed baby will always be able to stay well hydrated and have the best possible nutrition without worry of contamination. Even if the mother is very stressed or malnourished, she will still make milk for her baby. Not only will the mother make food and drink for her baby but she will make antibodies to any infectious diseases that she comes into contact with and pass these on to her baby. This reduces the risk of the baby contracting an infectious disease or at the very least, reduces the severity and the duration of the baby’s illness.
A formula fed baby however will require formula, a bottle and teat and as much as 25L of clean water per day to make the formula and to safely clean the equipment. Sadly, many, many formula fed babies have died- not because there is no formula available to them, but because the water that has been used to make it up is contaminated. Clean water is often very difficult to come by in a disaster situation.
…in my own family
O.K… I don’t have any personal disaster stories to share. I’ve never been in a fire, flood, earthquake or famine. I do however have several instances where I have breathed a sigh of relief at the fact that I was still breastfeeding. At times, I don’t know what I would have done without my flappy but fully functional lactating breasts. The most significant times being while my kids have been hospitalised.
A few years back I had my baby (who turns 7 next week) and my nearly 3 year old (who turns 9 tomorrow) hospitalised several times over the course of a year with horrific MRSA skin infections. Don’t know where they got the super bug from, but it was untreatable with your run of mill antibiotics and caused both of my big boys to have emergency surgery and IV antibiotics at least 3 times each throughout that challenging year.
There was one time in particular that I can remember being grateful for breastfeeding. I had been told that my son would require emergency surgery to drain and clean an abscess. He was not able to eat or drink anything until after the surgery. Several hours turned into 8 hours and my son still had not had the surgery and had not been allowed to eat or drink. I was told by a nurse that there had been a major accident keeping the surgeon busy and she did not know how long it would be before anyone was available for my son.
Another 3 hours pass and still no sign of the surgeon. I tell a new nurse that my toddler has not eaten for 12 hours now and she tells me that is too long, he needs to have something to bring his blood sugar levels back up. I ask can I breastfeed him? She looked somewhat puzzled that I was still breastfeeding a toddler but tells me yes, it’s better than the icy pole she was going to give him. He happily fed and fell asleep peacefully. As it turned out, my son didn’t go into surgery until 18 hours after we were told “any time now”.
My boy was on an IV so fluids were not an issue, but the first thing the nurses wanted to happen once my poor boy woke up was to have him eat. So… my son gets out of recovery and taken to a room at 1am. I am given a plate of food and am told to get him to eat something. Yeh, right. Of course all he wanted to do was sleep, it was 1am and he was recovering from a general anaesthetic. I couldn’t get him to eat but I could get him to breastfeed. He was happy to breastfed in his sleep. I slept in his bed with him tucked under my arm and kept him attached pretty much all night. I had many nurses comment on how wonderful it was that he was still breastfed and how good it was for him in that situation…and on how I shouldn’t be in his bed :-).
I then got to thinking about breastfeeding as emotional first aid, the band aid for a breastfeeder’s soul. The comfort breastfeed in response to a fall or freight. Again, it’s no flood nor earthquake, but to baby, it’s a disaster. I always find that a quick breastfeed is the perfect first aid for these situations. By the time the first aid feed is over, baby is all smiles again.
…to a distressed planet
Lastly, this morning as I was out walking with my baby, I put my rose coloured glasses on and got to thinking about breastfeeding as environmental first aid. Imagine if formula was only produced for the 2% of mothers that are really and truly physically incapable of making enough breast milk to feed their baby. Imagine if all mothers were given help to breastfeed instead of formula. Imagine if orphans were given milk from milk banks and adoptive mothers were taught about adoptive breastfeeding.
How much less formula would we need to produce? How many less tins would go to land fill? How much less water would be spent on formula production? How many less plastic bottles and rubber teats would be manufactured and eventually thrown out? How much fossil fuel would be saved? How much less carbon dioxide would be going into the atmosphere?
In the interest of getting this post up before the end of World Breastfeeding Week, I’m going to leave it at that and hand it over to anyone that might be reading. What do you think?