Are mothers who want to breast feed being given the support they need?
Are we setting breast feeding mothers up for failure?
In our previous blog we covered the advantages and disadvantages of breast and bottle feeding. We wanted to dive a little deeper into this issue by looking at mums who have had difficulties with breast feeding and not received the support they needed.
The breast is best motto is commonly seen but what happens to mothers who activiely want to breast feed and yet struggle? Are we not perhaps disregarding how they might feel by continuing with the breast is best motto. One of the mothers we spoke too found it deeply offensive, she tried everything to breast feed and not being able to left her devestated. "The term breast is best is something I find so offensive, you wouldn't say to someone with a prosthetic leg , flesh is best would you" said one anon mother we spoke to, "I felt like a total failure when my milK dried up and yet when i did ask for help I didnt receive any".
Mother, Remi, has taken to her Instagram (@mamaclog) to share a brutally honest account of her breastfeeding journey, including how she contracted sepsis after missing the warning signs that she had mastitis.
She writes: "Breastfeeding did NOT come easy for me. My milk came in after 5 days. I wasn't aware that it could take that long, I didn't even necessarily know what 'milk coming in' meant (nobody ever taught me.) I was the only mother breastfeeding on my ward. One woman did try to breastfeed, but switched to formula after 12 hours because she 'had no milk' (nobody taught her either.) While the other babies slept with full bellies, my son screamed and cried attached to my breast through the night. (What was cluster feeding? Nobody told me).
There's a lot more to this story but my point is, the lack of support and education surrounding breastfeeding is just terrible.
"And I don't mean in terms of relaying the benefits of breastmilk and handing out lactation support leaflets. I mean general education, about the basics of breastfeeding, about cluster feeding, about the problems that can arise and what to do, how to spot them and how to remedy them.
"Women are not expected to give birth alone, but somehow today they are expected to breastfeed alone, and not share their experience with others, and this is why so many breastfeeding relationships end before they've even really started. The breastfeeding rates in the UK are shockingly low. The health system, and society in general is failing breastfeeding mothers.
Breastfeeding is HARD, it needs to be taught and it needs to be learned.
"If new mothers knew just how difficult it can be at first, more would take themselves to prenatal breastfeeding classes, buy books, join forums, and ask more questions - But we don't, we just assume that it will feel as natural as breathing. Because no one ever told us"
A new mums story
The next mum has asked to remain anon. She has inverted nipples and therefore always knew there was likely to be an issue with breastfeeding. Despite expressing concern to her midwives they assured her she would get the support she needed in hospital. However this did not happen. In amongst the hussle and bussle of a busy maternity unit she was not offered any help until the next day. She was able to feed for 20 minutes but then her son would not latch again. She did not feel very supported. During that night her colostrum totally dried up and despite buzzing numerous times no one came to help her. "It was awful and i cried so much". He also had tongue tie which they were assured would be corrected at the hospital, however yet again no one came. By the time they had got his tongue tie sorted she had lost her milk. Despite so desperately wanting to breast feed she was failed by the system.
Other Mums we spoke to spoke of being ushered into side rooms at weighing clinics to have their latch checked and feeling like they were some sort of animal in a cage to be observed. Midwives doing home visits stating that a mothers baby was "just lazy" or attending a drop in breastfeeding support group to be stuck in a corner by herself when she told them she couldnt get her child to latch.
Its very clear that we need to do more and that this may well be why breast feeding rates are so low.
So who exactly is to blame here? In the middle of a pandemic it’s easy to sympathise with the busy nurses and midwives who perhaps aren''t always able to offer the support needed when breastfeeding doesnt go to plan in hospital. Likewise home midwife and health visitor visits are often on a tight schedule meaning there isn't as much time to deal with additional issues. Should parents be more vocal asking for help? Or more insistent? Or should there be more in terms of education and training in the run upto birth and afterwards. If we really want to raise breast feeding rates it is clear that more support is needed for those struggling.
A local breastfeeding guru we would recommend is breastfeeding herts (Heidi Hembry) who is hertford based. She is able to offer home visits to struggling mothers within 24-48 hours or can offer a zoom 1:1 video consultations to help you overcome your breastfeeding concerns. Heidi Hembry is a Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) with over 11 years of experience, supporting families on their breastfeeding journeys. Whether your desire is to breastfeed exclusively, combination feed, or just to have a more positive breastfeeding experience, she can help you to make a personalised plan to suit you and your baby. You can find a link to her page here Breastfeeding Support at home | BreastfeedingHerts | Hertfordshire.
Remember, it can take a while to feel confident about breastfeeding, but you're not alone. Your midwife and health visitor are there to help, guide and support you and please do feel free to speak up if you feel their behaviour or attutude is not what you expect. There's also lots of advice available online or via support groups, helplines and websites.
Breastfeeding helplines National Breastfeeding Helpline: 0300 100 0212 The Breastfeeding Network supporter line in Bengali and Sylheti: 0300 456 2421 Association of Breastfeeding Mothers: 0300 330 5453 La Leche League: 0345 120 2918 National Childbirth Trust (NCT): 0300 330 0700