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Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 08:49 GMT 09:49 UK
'I'm the new face of ()()feeding'
Shanelle and Mishka
Shanelle and Mishka at home in Weymouth, Dorset
Youth culture - txt msgs and the pierced face of 22-year-old Shanelle Claridge - is being used to encourage young mums to feed their babies naturally. Here Shanelle explains why she thinks breast is best.

Breastfeeding seems to be seen as something disgusting or dirty, which is absolute madness when it's the most natural thing you can do.

NCT poster
Shanelle fronts the NCT's new poster campaign
It's something you just don't see very often, and on TV there's a lot more people bottle feeding.

I'm very much for a natural approach so when the National Childbirth Trust asked me to model for them - a friend who works for the charity had shown photos of me and my newborn around the office - I thought 'why not?'

They were keen to use me for their breast feeding campaign because I have a bit more of the image they're looking for: young, a bit funky, someone who younger mums can identify with.

Food of love
Mothers under 25 are the least likely to breastfeed in the UK
I have faith in my body so when I got pregnant I wanted to do everything as nature intended, from going through labour to feeding Mishka. And now I'm weaning her, I'm giving her organic food because that's what I believe in - why mess around with nature?

Time to bond

[Breast feeding's] a special time for me and Mishka to bond as well - and sometimes it's the only thing that comforts her when she's really been crying.

Shanelle and Mishka
Shanelle soon after she became a mother
She's so healthy; we just never have a problem with her. As for me, my figure has come back really quickly. A few mums I know who switched to bottles early have had a bit of a weight problem. Breast feeding does help you burn an extra 500 calories a day, which is quite a lot.

And when we're out, I don't have to carry extra supplies around. Milk is there on tap for her, whenever she demands it.

I did get cracked nipples at first and it was very painful. But my midwife showed me how to make it easier to feed and after the first week, my problems just disappeared.

Anytime, anywhere

Initially I felt a little bit cautious about what other people might think if I breastfed in public.

Benefits of natural feeding
Boosts baby's immune system
Helps guard against allergies, infections and obesity
Cuts mother's breast cancer risk
May boost IQ and cut cot death rate
Now I just do it wherever I am. It's her health I'm most concerned with - I'm not going to make her scream and scream while I get to a convenient place. I just look for a cafe and sit down and feed her. No-one has ever made me feel awkward about feeding in public.

As long as I'm wearing a baggy top, I don't reveal anything. When I'm with friends, most don't even realise what I'm doing - it just looks like I'm hugging my baby close to me.

Sonia from EastEnders feeds baby Chloe
Mothers switch from breast to bottle increasingly early
When I was younger, I didn't see many women feeding in public. I knew I'd been breastfed, and my partner had been breastfed, but it seemed to be done in the privacy of people's homes.

But it's not that convenient to do that now if you want to have a life of your own.

You need to be able to go out and get on with life and feed as and when it's required, rather than shut yourself away as if you are doing something bad.

Back to work

I've returned to work as a shop assistant now Mishka is six-and-a-half months old.

Shanelle and Mishka, now six-and-a-half months old
Shanelle and Mishka: "She's so healthy"
It's been tiring but as feeding goes, it's fine.

I can express at work - my employers don't mind if I shut up shop for five to 10 minutes - and give the milk to my parents, who look after Mishka during the day.

A lot of people think that going back to work must be a hassle while you're still breastfeeding but you just need a breast pump and an understanding employer.

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13 May 02 | Health
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