It’s so very hot, isn’t it? I’m hiding inside again from it all as my Celtic upbringing once again trumps my Malaysian blood. The afternoon school run is getting slower and slower, with stops for icecreams every day now. And yet last Sunday, 30, 000 people got up and into Central London before most of the tubes had started so that they could run 10 k through the baked streets for a charity that was so very important to them. 10k isn’t a short distance and it’s not something I’ve ever covered in a race. For those of you who don’t run, an average 10k time is about an hour. AN HOUR of running as the temperatures kept climbing and the stone and glass reflects more and more heat and sun onto you. As you can tell, I’m a little in awe of those who ran. If you were one of them, thank you.
I was there as I was asked to be the pro-bono photographer for a charity called Best Beginnings. They’re a small UK charity who do amazing work trying to reduce the inequalities in child health in different parts of the UK. Did you know that a baby is 5 1/2 times more likely to die in infancy, more likely to be admitted to hospital with life threatening infections and more likely to grow up with a higher risk of childhood diabetes in Bradford than one in Tunbridge Wells? The gaps in maternal and infant health lead to gaps in rates of premature births, serious illnesses, developmental disorders and deaths in early infancy and these continue into adulthood. That’s huge, and it has to be preventable.
Best Beginnings are convinced of this as well and have set up interventions and great resources for both healthcare professionals and the families that they serve. Their Small Wonders project focuses on premature and sick babies with information on kangaroo care which improves skin to skin contact with mother and baby. The importance of breast milk for premature and sick babies’ development and the associated reduction in infections and costs for hospitals is well established but breast milk expression and breastfeeding rates for sick and premature babies varies considerably between hospitals across the UK. Several friends who had babies in SCBU and NICU have told me how difficult it was wanting to breastfeed and having an infant unable to suckle. They all said how helpful and supportive the medical teams were in these hospitals, but also how busy. Best Beginnings created a DVD with 12 films, each following a family from first contact with their baby to a year on. You can watch it online here. Families can go back and rewatch the sections they need easily so that they can support and reassure themselves at times when medical staff aren’t available.
I know personally how valuable online resources can be for a new mother. I breastfed my first child easily. She came out, latched easily and fed like a pro. Just as well, as while I’d had lots of talks about the importance of breastfeeding, I had no idea what that really meant. I had no frame of reference for when things were going well, how to tell if they weren’t and I’d thought that newborns “feeding all the time” meant once for 20 minutes every 4 hours. She taught me that all the time in the early days really could mean All The Time. (It was another hot summer, and now I realise that she was thirsty as well as hungry. I found out later that skin to skin isn’t just important for premature babies. She couldn’t regulate her body temperature well and used me a heat exchanger. Sweaty!) Breastfeeding made her blissfully happy, and I was happiest when she was so we continued nursing until she was a toddler and I was pregnant with her brother.
When my 2nd child was born, I was an experienced breastfeeder. I’d been nursing for almost 2 years, and it had only been a handful of weeks since I last had breastfed a child. But nursing a newborn is very different from nursing a toddler. Toddler’s just need to sit on your lap and they’ll do all the technical stuff themselves while you tickle their feet & browse Facebook (just me?). A newborn needs head and positioning support and sometimes needs some guidance on how to attach properly. I KNEW my newborn wasn’t feeding well. He looked like he was feeding well, but the signs weren’t there. He took a long time for his poo to change from meconium, and while not every mother gets engorged breasts, last time I’d had such oversupply that I had to sleep on towels to save the mattress. I had none of that. Because I had recent experience, I knew to shout out that things weren’t right. My midwife, whilst very supportive of breastfeeding in general, didn’t see an issue and suggested it was a lazy latch problem. My health visitor couldn’t have been less interested. My area is well supported with breastfeeding clinics but the idea of getting organised enough to take a newborn, a tantrummy two year old and shuffling into a room of strangers was more than my post-birth self wanted to deal with. Foolishly, perhaps but I just wanted to hunker down at home. I was lucky though. I had the support of an amazing group of experienced friends online, one of whom directed me to the Best Beginnings breastfeeding resources and I spend hours and hours just rewatching this graphic of good latch technique. It made all the difference to us, to our feeding relationship and my confidence. It meant we were able to continue muddling through with trying for the best latch, and breast compressions until I found a clinic that diagnosed my son’s severe tongue tie and have it treated. We continued nursing for another couple of years after that but even now I still remember the relief of being able to find somewhere that showed me what I needed to do at 3am when I was foggy and had lost the ability to tell how we were meant to feed.
I regret that I don’t have any pictures of us nursing to share with you, and I really wish I did. This is what my son’s tongue tie looked like before his operation, note the typical heart shaped dip of it which is typical of a tongue tie although it’s not always present.
You can see why this is such a significant charity to me. I had so many resources but their site was the one that gave me clear accessible information at a time & place that I needed it. Imagine the impact their work has on people without my support network. If you’re pregnant, you can get a copy of their Bump to Breastfeeding dvd from your midwife, or from here for £3 and I know they’re also producing apps too.
You can still donate on the fundraisers’ pages here. Please do, if you can.