So it’s National Breastfeeding Awareness Week again, and all over Twitter and Facebook and various other media there are cries of “What’s the point?!”, “Why do we need more awareness?!”, “Things like this just make us mums who can’t breastfeed feel guilty again!” blah blah etc etc. Well, the point is this: UK breastfeeding rates are dropping and in some areas, breastfeeding is seen to be “unnatural and abnormal”. I am at a loss for words at this statement. Formula feeding is now so prevalent in the UK that manufactured powder, mixed with water boiled in a kettle, shaken vigorously in a sterilised plastic bottle, topped with a rubber teat, needing to be left to stand until it reaches the required temperature is the “natural” option?!
There are dozens and dozens of reasons as to how and why we have reached this point with breastfeeding here in the UK, and I am neither qualified nor educated enough to begin to discuss all those reasons. And, quite frankly, I don’t have the time to write a post about the myriad reasons of the demise in breastfeeding rates – I have an hour to do this while The Boyfriend breakfasts and entertains the little ones, before we head out for a family lunch. Forgive me if this post is therefore a little to the point.
Support. Support, support, support. It is the basis of life, of learning everything, of getting to where you want to be, who you want to be, and it is no different for breastfeeding. Without support, be it encouragement, guidance, teaching, listening and hand-holding, or a few well-timed confidence-boosting “Woo-hoo!”s, we are likely to lose our way, our confidence and our goal in whatever we are trying to achieve. With breastfeeding, because it is no longer our cultural norm, it is not a skill passed from generation to generation, and it is rare to see a mum breastfeeding her baby in public, support becomes so much more important in succeeding.
Last year I became a breastfeeding peer supporter, and through going to the breastfeeding cafes run by our local Infant Feeding Team, I met Sara. Sara’s second baby, Harrison, was born prematurely at home, and transferred to the NICU where he spent the first two weeks of his life. Harrison was a tiny 4lb 13oz at birth, and within hours of arriving at the hospital, a lactation consultant was showing Sara how to hand express her colostrum into a syringe. As Sara says, the staff on the NICU were incredibly helpful and supportive, providing her with a hospital grade breast pump to enable her to express next to Harrison’s incubator, and a Medela hand pump, a double electric pump, and bottles for expressing at home. Most importantly, though, they took the time to explain and show Sara how to use all this equipment. She says herself that if the staff had not been so helpful, she would have had to feed Harrison with formula.
Harrison’s latch was poor, due to his early arrival, and the lactation consultant at the hospital talked Sara through attachment and positioning, concluding after over a week of trying that Harrison was just too small to latch on properly, and provided nipple shields, which Sara used for twelve weeks.
Sara’s support continued once Harrison came home at 35 weeks. The Infant Feeding Team provided regular home visits, teaching Sara how to do breast compressions to relieve blocked ducts, and ensuring that breastfeeding was continuing to be as successful as it was whilst in hospital care. The health visitor, however, was less than helpful, telling Sara that Harrison’s weight gain was not good enough, that if he didn’t start climbing up the centiles she would have to formula feed, and even after a huge weight gain she still insisted that formula was likely to be necessary. Luckily, Sara had found help and advice on an online forum, where lots of mums provided their own stories, and pointed her in the direction of essential reading, such as Kellymom.com. Eight months on, Sara is still breast feeding Harrison, without ever having to offer him formula.
I think the issue of the importance of support goes hand in hand with the importance of training and education on breastfeeding. Sara’s story highlights not only how the right support from the Neo-natal Intensive Care staff, the lactation consultant and the Infant Feeding Team got her and Harrison successfully feeding, but how the health visitor’s total lack of knowledge and inability to see further than the weight charts could have been so detrimental to their breastfeeding journey. And this brings us back to where we started, that formula feeding is so prevalent in the UK that it is going to take a lot more than simply support to get Britain breastfeeding again.
But for those mums-to-be who are thinking of breastfeeding, those who are considering becoming a mum-to-be, or those who are finding breastfeeding harder than they thought, there IS support around. Not enough, admittedly, and I count myself extremely lucky to live in an area where a support team provides home visits and breastfeeding support groups, but it is there online, on the telephone, and (allegedly) in the community. The list below provides a few resources for breastfeeding support. The list below that contains a few bloggers who are also joining in with the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt 2013 (this is how the scavenger hunt works), and below that is the Rafflecopter which will allow you to enter the draw for the Grand Prize.
Good luck, happy reading and happy National Breastfeeding Awareness Week!
The Lactivist – for fabulous breastfeeding promotion
Please go and read the posts from these amazing bloggers who are all taking part in this year’s Scavenger Hunt: