When our son was born, we had just attended (the day before) our first National Childbirth Trust meeting and met all the other parents in the group. I felt a bit dizzy during the meeting, but not particularly ill, but checked my blood pressure all the same when we got home. It was on the high side, but nothing we weren't used to as I'd already been admitted for observation two or three times. Anyway, our lovely community midwife came out at the end of her shift to see me and did the test that shows if you have pre-eclampsia. Not wanting to cause any stress, she played it down and told me to go into the maternity unit 'to be on the safe side'. Gary wasn't there and after she left, he phoned to say that our car had broken down and he was waiting for the RAC. So, two hours later, with the midwives on duty on the verge of calling the police as they had an old contact number for us and couldn't talk to me (I did have pre-eclampsia - they knew and I didn't), we turned up. We didn't really know how serious it was as they try not to alarm you in these circumstances, until the staff could no longer hide their concern and I was given an epidural. It was done in a hurry and didn't work on one side, so the birth of my son was extremely traumatic and ended with a general anaesthetic and Gary having to leave the theatre. His son was whisked past him to neonatal and someone told him, "It's a boy!" "I know," he answered. I didn't get to see my baby until three days later, but from the start, he was fed (via a nasal-gastric tube) milk from his own mum.
Here's the magic bit. When a baby is born before full term, your body adapts so that the milk that's produced has special properties that are tailor-made to meet the needs of the baby. It's like gold-dust in terms of saving babies lives and giving them the kick start to immunity that they need. Extra milk is often banked by the hospitals for other babies, to give them with parental consent as it's so valuable. It was very sad to talk to young mums on neonatal who had decided to use formula instead. The best thing for me was that although I was stuck in a hospital bed several floors away from my son, I could still nurture him. We missed a few NCT meetings as we didn't want to scare anyone and could tick quite a lot of 'been there, done that' boxes. I did go to one on breast feeding though as the co-ordinator wanted me to share my experience. She laughed when I said that my baby was taking 5 ml a feed. It was a huge milestone at that point and the standard 200 ml or so seemed impossible. He got there though.
Sadly, where we lived in Walsall, it was very difficult to carry on in public places. There are very few cafes even in a city where mums can have a private space to feed in. In fact, the only one I know of is in Ikea, so I used to go there often as we lived 10 minutes away and I wanted to get out of the house. When he was a toddler, it stayed our favourite coffee shop and we tested out all the sofas and whizzing-around chairs for fun. He still loves going, but it's a bit harder now we are a bridge-toll away from Ikea Bristol. With clean, fun and spacious changing rooms, the Swedes really seemed to have a good thing going for mums and babies.
What I want to say is if they can do it, why don't we do it in this country? Mums who are relaxed and happy feeding their babies give more milk. Babies with relaxed and happy mums are in turn less stressed. Privacy and comfort means that more mums will be relaxed and happy when they go out.
We had to use a catch-up formula which fortunately was available on prescription as it's so expensive (another good reason to breast feed), so I used the times when I was going out and about to make up a bottle to take to church, for example. But, if you are a cafe owner, or responsible for a public building like the library, Town Hall or a church, why not think about creating a haven for mums in the same way? I wonder how much public money would be saved with the long term benefits in health and body and brain development? And how much better off would parents be if they didn't have to buy formula? Good for you, Pope Francis!