CAROL ALEXIS has so far spent six years of her life breastfeeding her children – and she plans to continue for at least another year.
But she is a mum-in-a-hundred. A member of an exclusive club of women who give their babies breast milk and nothing else for the first six months of life.
Only 1% of new mothers in the UK do this – following the Government’s guidelines on breastfeeding.
While rates for women who initiate breastfeeding after birth have climbed from 76% in 2005 to over 81% in 2010, only one third continue until their baby is six months old – and the majority supplement breast milk with formula or solid food.
But 39-year-old Carol admits she has enjoyed every minute of breastfeeding her three sons – Raefel, six, Theo, four, and baby Zola, eight months. Both Raefel and Theo continued to have breast milk until they were 2½ years old. She plans to do the same with Zola and wants other mothers to share the experience.
“It is so important,” she says. “Breastfeeding has so much value for both the mother and baby – it’s something you can’t buy and a commitment to your baby. For me it’s a time to bond with my baby and I know it’s good for him.”
She’s so fervent about the issue that during her maternity leave with Zola she began to blog on YouTube about her experiences (Dynamocazzalington) and has started to attract a following. One of her most popular blogs to date tackles the topic of black women and breastfeeding.
What’s refreshing about Carol’s blog is that she speaks from personal heartfelt experience and wants to be helpful rather than judgemental. She does not belong to any of the organisations normally associated with breastfeeding – the National Childbirth Trust or La Leche League, for example – she’s simply a mum of three boys with a wealth of advice and tips to offer.
“I love breastfeeding,” said Carol. “But I knew nothing about it when I was expecting Raefel so I did lots of research.”
In common with many women of her generation Carol was not breastfed as a baby.
Her parents, Veronica and Lincoln Alexis, came to Yorkshire from Grenada at a time when breastfeeding rates in this country were at an all-time low.
But Government initiatives to improve rates in recent years and ‘Breast is Best’ campaigns have changed the public’s perception – to some degree.
Carol added: “I think the problem now is that women give up too soon because they find out that it’s actually quite hard work and they have to feed on demand which may not be convenient and cuts into their time.
“Bottle feeding suits them better because they can feed the baby when they want and they’re not up and down all night.”
While help for breastfeeding mums is now much more readily available than it once was – and hospital staff are trained to advise – Carol believes that many women simply don’t understand the mechanisms involved.
“They don’t realise that you have to feed frequently to build up the supply and they will say they haven’t got enough milk,” she explained.
“It takes about six weeks to get into it. You have got to give yourself time and I think that’s where people go wrong. They’re giving up just about the time when it starts to get easier.”
For women like Carol the pros of breastfeeding far outweigh any cons.
“It’s easier, quicker, cheaper and more convenient once you’ve got it established,” she said.
“The milk comes out already at room temperature, you don’t need to carry a load of bottles and stuff around with you and for the first six months the baby doesn’t need anything else.”
Carol found that those around her had many misconceptions about breastfeeding.
“People kept asking me if I was going to give them water or why I wasn’t giving them solid food,’’ she said.
“I had to explain that breast milk changes according to the weather, time of day and the baby’s requirements. They don’t need anything else.”
Carol, who has been with her fiance Trevor Andrews for 16 years, also believes that breastfeeding is good for parental relationships. “It means the fathers can concentrate on helping in other ways,” she said. “Trevor doesn’t do any of the feeding but he looks after the other boys and supports me. That’s his role.”
The couple plan to marry in the New Year.
Carol, who is a communications and cultural studies graduate from London University, will be returning to work full-time in February as an advisor for the Government’s Department of Work and Pensions.
She aims to continue breastfeeding and says that a special quiet room and a fridge are being provided for her so that she can express breast milk. Her parents will be caring for Zola.
Carol is not just a champion of breastfeeding, she is also an authority on re-usable nappies and offers advice on how to use them in her blog.
She is hoping to train as a breastfeeding peer supporter and a doula (birth assistant).
As well as working with mums and newborn babies she is involved in setting up a project for young people called Generations in Action.
Aimed at the black minority ethnic population of Huddersfield, the organisation will provide role models and mentors to help youngsters acquire skills that will make them more employable.
“I’m interested in my childrens’ education but some parents are not able to give their children the time and help they need – or don’t have the skills,” she explained. “We want to break the cycle.”
But, as she points out, perhaps it all begins with breastfeeding.
“It is something that I do in private – just me and my baby,’’ she said. “It’s our time and very important to me. It gives them the best start in life”.
A new survey has revealed that because of the economic climate more mothers are returning to work earlier than expected after having a baby.
Up to 30% of those returning to work early are still breastfeeding and find it difficult to continue.
Half of those surveyed by breastpump manufacturers Medela said they had nowhere to go to express milk at work.
Others said that a break in the working day to feed their baby would be welcome but was not on offer.
According to the NHS website breastfeeding has the following benefits for babies:
Less chance of diarrhoea and vomiting and having to go to hospital as a result
Fewer chest and ear infections and having to go to hospital as a result
Less chance of being constipated
Less likelihood of becoming obese and therefore developing type 2 diabetes and other illnesses later in life
Less chance of developing eczema
Breastfeeding also lowers the mother’s chances of getting ovarian or breast cancer and uses up around 500 calories a day, thereby helping a postnatal woman to regain her figure.