KATE EVANS LIVES IN THE WEST COUNTRY with her partner and their five-year-old son. We tracked her down to talk boobs and babies.
Kate, we love the open and friendly style of your new book. It’s informative without being preachy and really encourages new mothers to explore the art of breastfeeding. What was your own experience like?
Breastfeeding is almost invisible in our society. You’re lucky if you have even seen someone close to you breastfeed before that daunting moment when you are handed your own baby. However, I was really lucky. My mum had a baby, a late “happy accident”, when I was thirteen. So my first breastfeeding experience was living with an experienced mother who was happy to breastfeed as much as my sister needed. And that was a lot! My little sister was a really tricky, colicky baby, and she suffered a digestive complaint, which meant that as she got older she was reluctant to wean. And my mum worked out that she didn’t have to wean her. So I had another positive experience, of seeing how lovely it can be for a toddler to breastfeed, well before I was driven to do anything that “radical” myself.
How fortunate. And how about when your own son was born?
I suppose I wasn’t so lucky when my son was born. He came five weeks early, and he was really tiny and only just big enough to suckle. My friend sent me a text saying that the first six weeks of breastfeeding are really dificult, but after that it gets great. I got engorgement. He got a weird bacterial nappy rash. He got thrush from the antibiotics. I got thrush from him. Neither of us got any effective medication for ages, until my mum found a fifteen-yearold bottle of gentian violet from the back of her medicine cupboard. So we got to six weeks, everything settled down, and I was looking forward to everything going swimmingly. Then I got a blocked duct. Which turned into mastitis. And I saw a doctor who told me to stop breastfeeding from the affected side, which is the single worst piece of advice I have ever received from any medical professional. So I got an abscess. Ouch. And then I cracked the other nipple.
Ow! How did you get through this to share your experiences with readers?
I saw a lactation consultant, who was really calm and incredibly knowledgeable, and put us on the road to recovery. That’s where the idea for the Food of Love germinated. There are women out there who have retained or rediscovered all the information we need to breastfeed successfully. But it’s really difficult for that information to get to new mothers who need it.
Was it frustration about this information not being available that drove you to produce The Food of Love?
Yes, I guess so and also because breastfeeding can be so lovely! When you see a baby feed until they’re full, they’re filled with such contentment that it’s not hard to argue that that experience is part of a baby’s birthright. It’s sad that so many babies never get those special cuddles. Because breastfeeding can be really nice for mothers too. It can feel really really nice. The fact that you’re feeding your baby a living fluid that provides them with perfect nutrition and protects them from infections is an added bonus.
I like how you highlight the benefits that breastfeeding can have for mothers too. We talk a lot about the benefits for babies and little about how it affects us as mothers.
I know. Because women are isolated, unsupported and misinformed about the realities of childcare, the vast majority of women in the UK give up breastfeeding in those first six weeks, and I believe that is for three reasons. Firstly, they never learn how to put the baby onto the breast, because they’ve never seen it done, and noone has shown them how to do it. Or secondly they get one of the common breastfeeding complaints, and they can’t access information to help them deal with it. And then, thirdly people just don’t believe in breastfeeding. The baby has a growth spurt and needs to feed a lot, and the reaction of people around that vulnerable mother is to tell her that she’s not making enough milk. Start feeding ‘top-up’ bottles, and bingo, there’s a woman with a failing milk supply. It’s not a medical problem. It’s an attitude problem.
So you decided to write a book to share this knowledge with other women.
Yeah, I wanted to write a book that has clear, step-by-step pictures to help women find the way of latching their little newborn on that works for them. I compiled a really comprehensive chapter on what to do if you run into difficulties. And I tried to help women understand that babies are different. Most of them like to breastfeed a lot, and for a lot of different reasons, so some of them might slot into those babycare routines, but most of them won’t. Learning and listening to a baby is the most important skill that parents need to acquire, and breastfeeding can work really well with that. For good measure, I decided to chuck in a chapter with good information and practical suggestions for post-natal depression. It’s not surprising that women get post-natal depression in our society. In fact, if you consider the pressures on and unrealistic expectations of modern mothers, it’s surprising that more women don’t get depressed!
I think that your cartoons make the book feel like it is advice coming from a good friend. They really bring the information to life. What was your inspiration?
I’m a cartoonist, and one of the reasons why I wrote the Food of Love is that I find breastfeeding artistically inspiring. It was great drawing the Mama Sutra, and showing some of the different crazy ways you can end up feeding a baby. It was fun making inspiring artistic representations of lactation. When I drew the co-sleeping cartoon, I discovered that there are no images of co-sleeping anywhere on the Internet, it’s an entirely private, secret act, so it’s no wonder that when most parents decide where their baby is going to sleep, they think of a cot. And most babycare books are so dull! It was really fun writing and drawing something with jokes in. If you have to stick cabbage leaves in your bra, then you need to be able to laugh about the situation.
Ah – the ubiquitous cabbages leaves! A great folk remedy. What is the best breastfeeding advice that you received?
Well, co-sleeping was definitely my best breastfeeding decision. If I had had to get out of bed and stay awake for all of those night feeds, I would have been a total zombie. Instead of just a partial zombie.
The book is packed with advice. Is there anything else that you would particularly like to share with new parents?
Err, I’d like to remind new parents that it’s normal to worry. You’re meant to worry. Babies have, over hundreds of thousands of years, survived because their mothers were really really worried. Don’t worry about worrying!
Y*ou work in a wind- and solar-powered studio at the bottom of the garden. Is reducing your carbon footprint an important aspect of your life?*
Definitely. I haven’t flown since writing my book Funny Weather: Everything You Didn’t Want to Know About Climate Change but Probably Should Find Out. The realities of climate change are startlingly bad, so I’d urge green parents to get involved with risingtide and the Climate Camp. There are big question marks hanging over our children’s future, and we have only a few short years to come up with some meaningful answers.
So true. Breastfeeding is a great first step on the road to green living too. As well drawing, what else do you like doing?
Walking, singing and eating porridge.
Tell us about your plans for the future?
On the work front, I have more ideas for books, and many more for cartoons. Like many women, I’m better at creating than at publicising my work, so I need to concentrate on getting more stuff published. I’ve been doing this for fourteen years now, so I have an enormous back-catalogue that I can trawl. Watch out for my revamped website at cartoonkate.co.uk which will be online soon. On the home front, I’m currently enjoying home-educating my son. It’s really fun. Why did no-one ever tell me that it’s fun? I may put him in school in the future though. I think it would be good for him to have a choice.