Why do we even need help to do something that is the biological norm, a completely natural thing; a mammal feeding her offspring? Surely we should just be able to get on with it without all this fuss?
Over the past decades women have lost confidence in their bodies’ ability to breast feed and can easily get swayed or hindered by friends, family and health care professional when deciding whether or not to breast feed. Successful marketing of artificial baby milk, ill informed medical professionals, baby ‘experts’ offering advice as well as the extreme sexualisation of breasts in our culture have all played their role. All of these factors culminate with the covering up of breastfeeding. We rarely see it in public, or even in private homes and often, when we do, it’s hidden by blankets, shawls and aprons. If a woman has never seen what it looks like to latch a newborn, why would this come naturally to her? There’s a learning curve for mothers and babies in those early days, but if you’ve never been exposed to breastfeeding, how would you know if your technique needs tweaking? If everyone tells you it’s normal to feel pain to begin with, how can you measure whether your pain is indicative of complications that could ultimately sabotage your breastfeeding journey? If the baby ‘experts’ tell you that your three week old should be feeding every four hours for 30 minutes on each breast, of course you’re going to think there’s something wrong with your milk when your fussy baby wants to nurse every hour and all evening long!
Who to trust?
By default, we naturally trust our doctors to know everything. And of course, there are plenty of wonderful and extremely knowledgeable doctors who do educate themselves on more than just the daily scope of their GP practice. However, for the most part, doctors and even paediatricians, in the UK, have limited, if any, specific breastfeeding training. There’s a range of breastfeeding support available and it differs from area to area, from volunteer peer supporters to breastfeeding counsellors and lactation consultants.
But my baby has a medical issue; surely a doctor must be most qualified to deal with this?
Absolutely. If it is in fact a medical issue. But so many newborn ‘conditions’ can actually be direct results of breastfeeding issues. Reflux , dairy intolerances, colic, digestive discomfort, fussy behaviour; all areas that can often be dealt with by correcting a latch or assessing for a tongue tie, as well as managing expectations of what is ‘normal’ baby behaviour. Any good Breastfeeding Supporter will signpost you immediately to your GP if there’s any doubt that it’s not an issue relating directly to breastfeeding. Sadly, many doctors don’t afford us (Breastfeeding specialists) the same courtesy. ‘Stop breast feeding and give medication/ specialist formula milk’ is far too often the advice given when in fact a consultation with a breastfeeding specialist may have highlighted that this need not be necessary at all.
Ways to take control of your breastfeeding journey
During pregnancy attend a breastfeeding course or information session. In the UK, most hospitals offer these for free and they can also be accessed privately through organisations such as the NCT.
Find the breastfeeding groups in your area. Most UK children’s centres provide this service or can signpost you. Also in the UK, look up The Breastfeeding Network (BfN), Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM) and National Childbirth Trust (NCT) to see what groups they have running in your area. La Leche League (LLL) are an international organisation with groups worldwide. Go and hang out at a group, ask lots of questions and just watch babies feeding and talk to new mums and Breastfeeding Supporters. Have at least one specialist who you would feel comfortable contacting once the baby is born. Make sure your partner knows their details too.
For some, breastfeeding doesn’t happen as naturally as we might hope. It certainly didn’t for me. In a vulnerable state having just given birth, if your baby is struggling to latch, you may find yourself under enormous pressure from hospital staff to supplement with formula milk. Ultimately, this isn’t going to do you or your baby any favours and although plenty of babies have this start and go on to breastfeed exclusively, it can often be a harder route to take, both physically and emotionally.
You can start (hand) expressing colostrum from 36 weeks of pregnancy. You might want to freeze a stash to have on hand when the baby’s born. Even if you’d prefer not to, by just familiarising yourself with the technique, should it come to it, you’ll have the means to feed your baby without artificial milk.
Don’t hang about!
If in any doubt, or even just to check you’re on track, seek support immediately. Get in touch with that Breastfeeding Supporter you met during pregnancy, drop in to your local group or call a local or national helpline. If you’re really struggling, many services offer home visits too. Don’t worry about wasting anyone’s time, thinking your issues aren’t serious enough. Breastfeeding supporters are there to reassure and answer questions as much as to problem solve and action plan. And they’re always happy to meet a lovely new baby
If you’re struggling in hospital, ask to see a Breastfeeding Specialist. Don’t just take the word of the midwives (as lovely and well meaning as they are). Contact your local group and see if they have anyone who can visit you in hospital if necessary.
Who to trust (again)
Beware of breastfeeding advice from non-breastfeeding specialists. Everyone wants to help; grandmas, mother in laws, aunties, neighbours, midwives, health visitors, nurses, paediatricians, baby ‘experts’…. Many of these people may be well informed and up to date, but unfortunately many of them won’t be. In fact, just because someone has breast fed babies themselves at some point in the past, this doesn’t make them qualified to give breastfeeding advice. Speak to someone who is trained in breastfeeding support. Even if the first person you see does not have all the answers, there’s no pride involved and a Breastfeeding Supporter will signpost you if your questions are out of their remit. Untrained people may give you their personal opinions or out-dated theories that are not backed up by evidence based research.
Be emotionally prepared
Breastfeeding is wonderful. It isn’t just about nutrition and food. It helps forge that unique relationship between a mother and her baby. It is the normal and natural way to feed and soothe a baby, carries numerous health benefits and is every baby’s right. It’s not always easy to begin with and even throughout the breastfeeding relationship, there may be many hurdles and obstacles encountered. For the vast majority of women, these can be overcome with determination and appropriate support from breastfeeding specialists.
Further sources of reliable breast feeding information:
- Association of Breastfeeding Mothers: abm.me.uk
- NCT: nct.org.uk
- The Breastfeeding Network: www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk
- La Leche League: laleche.org.uk
- Dr Jack Newman www.breastfeedinginc.ca
Laura Walzer is a guest writer, Brestfeeding Peer Supporter and fellow Inquisitive Parent
Laura developed a passionate interest in breastfeeding after encountering great difficulties with her newborn, 16 months ago. She has since trained with the NHS in Harrow, UK, as a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter and supports local mothers at a drop in group. In addition to this, she is now training with the ABM, with the intention of becoming a Breastfeeding Counsellor.