07 Aug

Breastfeeding Support in Your Language

As World Breastfeeding Week 2020 draws to a close, we are delighted to showcase our wonderful Volunteer Peer Supporters speaking in some of the different languages that they offer breastfeeding support .

We hope that you enjoy hearing from them. 

 

Get in touch to find out if we speak your language.

 

#WBW2020 

06 Aug

Breastfeeding support during COVID-19 – A summary report in collaboration with Professor Amy Brown (Swansea University) and Dr Natalie Shenker (Imperial College & Human Milk Foundation)   

In May 2020, researchers from Swansea University and Imperial College conducted research in collaboration with the Breastfeeding Network to explore families’ experiences of breastfeeding support during COVID-19. 

 

Click the image to read the full report:

Covid Report Thumbnail

 

The following summary has been taken from the report, the full findings will be published in a journal later this year.

COVID-19 and lockdown has been a challenging time for breastfeeding families. Many have stopped sooner than they planned. Although this is unfortunately a common issue even outside of the pandemic3, many blamed a lack of support and lockdown experiences upon their decision to stop. 

We know that breastfeeding works best when women receive high quality practical and emotional support from professionals and peers including in the community1. This support had to change once lockdown was in place, with breastfeeding charity organisations making rapid alterations to the way they delivered their service.  

Some women were fortunate to be able to access this, evidenced by the multiple, varied queries they had answered during this time, covering both practical and emotional support needs. The majority of those who accessed this support found it useful and wanted it to stay, albeit alongside the benefits of face to face support once possible. For these women, their experience was positive, giving them easy and rapid access to support from the comfort of their homes. Notably, some women accessed this support over and above health professional support during the pandemic. It is clear that breastfeeding organisations provided a valued and needed service at this time – a finding reflected in similar previous research exploring the impact of the Australian Breastfeeding Association during this time4

Unfortunately, two further groups of women did not have the benefit of this support including those who did not realise it was available, and those who accessed it but either struggled or had a strong preference for face to face provision. These women found a lack of in person care challenging, struggling to convey issues or with technology, or simply wanted the reassurance of someone in the room. It is likely these experiences are not equal; those with more resources and fewer challenges at home will find accessing different sources of support in during difficult times easier.  

We found that women who did access charity support when they needed it were more likely to still be breastfeeding at the time of completing the survey compared to those who did not. To some extent their ability and willingness to seek support will in itself have supported these mothers’ ability to continue breastfeeding, most likely reflecting high motivation. However, given what we know about the impact of breastfeeding support for new families1, the range of queries posed to teams, and the positive experiences from some women in this survey, it is evidence that charity breastfeeding organisations have played an important role in ensuring mothers could continue breastfeeding through lockdown.  

In terms of where we go from here, the good news is that online breastfeeding support services are working well for many women, helping them to breastfeed for longer. However, many challenges and questions have been set, with some of the answers likely outside the control or remit of organisations offering support. Namely: 

  • How do we ensure better promotion of availability of online breastfeeding support so that more families know they can access it? 
  • How do we ensure these organisations are well funded to be able to meet the needs of more women? 
  • How to we enable all populations to access online support, including those who may not be able to afford technology or high-speed internet connections? 
  • What is needed to recommence face to face breastfeeding support, given other public spaces such as restaurants and public spaces are open?  

Given the known impact of breastfeeding upon population health5 and maternal wellbeing6, the government urgently needs to review its provision of care for new families, considering how it can ensure that more are protected in similar circumstances in the future. Although almost all mothers valued the option to receive online or phone support during lockdown, many expressed a wish for face to face support to continue. Recent press reports have stated that Health Secretary Matt Hancock wishes to encourage future virtual GP appointments unless clinical need, but caution must be urged in relying too heavily on a lack of in person support. It was clear mothers valued both the information they were being given, but also the warmth and connection from face to face support, and engagement with other mothers.  

Finally, the impact of breastfeeding charities in supporting mothers practically and emotionally through this stressful period should be celebrated. They have served a community of new mothers, whom without their support may have had a much more challenging breastfeeding experience and likely a premature end to breastfeeding altogether. Their value and contribution must be recognised.  

 

References 

1.     McFadden, A., Gavine, A., Renfrew, M. J., Wade, A., Buchanan, P., Taylor, J. L., … & MacGillivray, S. (2017). Support for healthy breastfeeding mothers with healthy term babies. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (2). 

2.     Unicef UK (2020) Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative statement on infant feeding during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.  

3.     McAndrew, F., Thompson, J., Fellows, L., Large, A., Speed, M., & Renfrew, M. J. (2012). Infant feeding survey 2010. Leeds: health and social care information Centre2(1). 

4.     Hull, N., Kam, R. L., & Gribble, K. D. (2020). Providing breastfeeding support during the COVID-19 pandemic: Concerns of mothers who contacted the Australian Breastfeeding Association. medRxiv. [preprint] – doi 10.1101/2020.07.18.20152256  

5.     Victora, C. G., Bahl, R., Barros, A. J., França, G. V., Horton, S., Krasevec, J., … & Group, T. L. B. S. (2016). Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. The Lancet, 387(10017), 475-490. 

6.     Brown, A. (2018). What do women lose if they are prevented from meeting their breastfeeding goals? Clinical Lactation9(4), 200-207. 

7.     BBC (2020) ‘More Zoom medicine needed’ in NHS says Hancock https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-53592678

 

Download the Summary Report in PDF

05 Aug

No experience needed, but prior knowledge advantageous: What I learned about breastfeeding second time around – by Alyson Spicer

“Mmm, you’re feeding him like a multip.”

The midwife preparing to discharge me gave a satisfied nod. I wasn’t sure what she’d said. “Like a what?”

“A multip. You’ve had a baby before, haven’t you?”

Oh Christ, was it that obvious? Had parenting a toddler really left me looking so noticeably haggard? Did I have Weetabix in my hair? But then I looked down. I was (slightly wonkily) cradling my not-quite-a-day-old son in one arm, while making notes with the other hand and occasionally pausing to guzzle more peppermint tea or tweak my top out of the way. He was doggedly cracking on and doing his thing.

It occurred to me that I hadn’t really paused in my conversation, and that it probably looked like I wasn’t paying much attention to what he was doing. It was pretty clear how this contrasted with my first days of learning to breastfeed three years before: constantly questioning, “Am I doing this right? How do I know?”; watching like a paranoid hawk for every possible feeding cue; requiring all body parts at exactly the right angle, precisely the right arrangement of pillows, no distractions…it was all a world away from the sort of casual lolling that baby number 2 and I were currently engaged in.

So I took her point.

But, previous time served in the breastfeeding trenches aside, I also had another secret weapon that she wasn’t aware of. When my first baby was a year old, I’d trained as a breastfeeding peer supporter, with the Breastfeeding Network. I’d volunteered at drop in groups for parents and their babies, offering information and support to help establish and maintain breastfeeding – everything from explaining how milk supply works to practical tips on positioning the baby at the breast…even ideas for gently handling well-meaning but clueless family members.

So when it comes to breastfeeding I should, on paper at least, have a fair idea what I’m doing.

Working as a peer supporter and then going back for another crack at breastfeeding myself has been an interesting experience. At almost 6 months in, it feels like it’s come easily this time. In some ways that’s definitely true – no cracked nipples, no worries about supply, no issues with baby’s weight, no mastitis. But there have also been times when it is the most challenging and frustrating thing in the world (Newsflash: being a trained peer supporter does not make you immune to all breastfeeding issues. Who knew?). Oversupply. Screaming baby. Sleepy baby. Uncomfortable boobs. Always being on call. Cluster feeding. Sleepless nights. Exhausting days.

Not to mention the fact that, when my baby was just nine weeks old, lockdown was announced thanks to COVID-19. The prospect of getting out to a breastfeeding cafe to get support or meet other mums – something I was particularly looking forward to, having just moved to a new area – disappeared faster than you could sing Happy Birthday (twice).

These were all challenges to push through, with the aid of hundreds of biscuits and gallons of tea (and a few glasses of wine along the way). Not because I’m supermum/a martyr/a masochist. At one point I found my hormone-addled brain thinking I must have been blessed with some sort of brilliant talent for breastfeeding (My calling at last! Are wet nurses still a thing?) – but that’s nonsense.

Why does it feel easy this time? Because I was armed with knowledge about breastfeeding. That’s all. So when I hit those challenging and frustrating times (which are so often just a normal part of getting breastfeeding established), I usually knew what I had to do to fix them. Or at least how to push through until they fixed themselves.

I knew that babies usually feed incessantly for the first few days, and I knew it didn’t mean I didn’t have enough milk. I knew the difference between a bad latch and a good one. I knew that a sore spot was a warning sign of a blocked duct, and I knew how to clear it before it got worse. And most crucially, if I didn’t know what to do, I knew where to go for support and information.

Sure, the local group was closed, but the breastfeeding community is an incredibly committed one, and nobody was going to see parents left in the lurch if they could help it.

Within days of restrictions being imposed, virtual support groups were set up on Zoom. Lactation consultants increased their Skype support offerings. Midwives posted how-to videos on hospital Facebook pages. Breastfeeding supporters on maternity wards donned layers of uncomfortable PPE and soldiered on. I even heard of peer supporters coming out of retirement to volunteer on the National Breastfeeding Helpline, where demand rocketed. Support was out there, even if it couldn’t always be offered face to face.

But what about first-time parents – not just those raising their babies under the shadow of a global pandemic, but anyone who doesn’t know what to expect or who to ask. Who have been told “breast is best” (a truly unhelpful phrase, but that’s a whole other essay) but not offered any follow up support, and have expected everything to just naturally fall into place.

Looking from that perspective – without the knowledge that it could and would get better, and working on the assumption that if this natural process didn’t come naturally, then it just wasn’t meant to be – there were many points where I could very easily have thrown in the towel, very quickly.

Even with the knowledge that I have, there have still been days when it’s bloody hard. It has become blindingly obvious to me why many parents have a tough time breastfeeding, and why breastfeeding rates aren’t higher (only 1% of babies in the UK are being exclusively breastfed at 6 months of age, as recommended by the World Health Organisation).

I’m not saying that every breastfeeding issue can be solved by reading a leaflet or spending half an hour with a peer supporter. Of course it’s never going to be that simple (and Professor Amy Brown explains the reasons for that far more eloquently than I ever could). But the right information and support can truly make the difference between having to stop breastfeeding, and being able to continue.

It allows every parent to make an informed choice about how to feed their baby (and if parents choose not to breastfeed, as is their right, at least that decision would be based on knowledge of the facts rather than an automatic adherence to prevalent bottle feeding culture). As a bonus, better breastfeeding support could save the NHS billions, through prevention of future health issues in both the child and the mother.

Information on breastfeeding isn’t a secret – but it’s not always easy to find, and not everyone has access to the same level of care. Every GP and midwife in the country will likely tell you the benefits of breastfeeding your baby and will encourage you to do so. Not all of them are able to support you to actually do it, or even point you in the direction of someone who can – usually because of cuts to local authority funding.

It’s cruel, when you think about it (Emma Pickett, chair of the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, calls it “inhumane”): to dangle the carrot of how brilliant breastfeeding is, but then snatch it away again if you don’t live in the right postcode. This isn’t a criticism of GPs or midwives, who do a fantastic job – it’s just often the case that they don’t have enough time, resources or training to offer the support that is so badly needed.

So what can we do? If you’re about to have a baby, you’re probably (understandably) preoccupied with the matter of safely getting another human out of your body. But try to also focus a little further down the road – find out as much as you can about feeding your baby, as soon as you can. It can feel daunting, but even a little bit of knowledge of what to expect will help.

Follow the Breastfeeding Network and Association of Breastfeeding Mothers on social media, and check out their websites – they have so much amazing information available. They also jointly run the National Breastfeeding Helpline – save the number in your phone, and call them whenever you need to speak to a mum who’s been there, and has been trained to help you out.

There are some really helpful books out there – head to the library if you don’t want to buy your own copies. Ask your midwife or health visitor about support available in your area – make a note of where drop-in groups are held, which days they run and contact details for the organiser. Consider checking them out before the baby arrives – if it’s a face to face group, at least you’ll know where you’re going if you need to pop along again with a baby in tow.

As previously mentioned, under the current circumstances many groups are now online and are offering virtual support – from the comfort of your own sofa! Arm yourself with the knowledge that breastfeeding may be difficult in the beginning, but that most issues can be resolved. Perhaps most importantly, make it clear to your family and friends that breastfeeding is important to you and that you’ll need their support. Make sure everyone is on the same page.

We all have a part to play in creating a society that supports breastfeeding. Look out for your breastfeeding friends and family members. If they’re struggling, don’t reflexively tell them it doesn’t matter – ask them what support they need. You could also write to your MP, asking them to attend meetings of the APPG on Infant Feeding, to help make sure infant feeding support is on their agenda. 

You don’t need to be an all-knowing guru, or be blessed with a magical talent for feeding babies. There’s no flashy product or clever gadget to buy. Just knowledge, kindness, support, perseverance.

For most of human history, it would have been passed to you by your mother, your sister, your aunt, your friends – cultural shifts mean that this is often no longer the case, so we can all step up to fill the gaps. A little information can go a long way towards helping to achieve breastfeeding goals – whether that’s feeding for a week, a month, a year, or longer.

As I finish writing this, I’m so grateful to everyone along the way who has supported my breastfeeding journey, and allowed me to reach a point where I can type with one hand while my baby nods off during his bedtime feed.

The midwives on day 1 in hospital; my husband helping me stick to my guns through the tough bits; my breastfeeding friends who gave me tips; the peer supporter who went above and beyond to help me; the tutors and supervisors who trained me and taught me so much (not just about breastfeeding!); and, through it all, my two sons who have somehow shown me the ropes even while learning alongside me.

I obviously couldn’t have done it without them, and I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved together. Even if they do leave Weetabix in my hair.

31 Jul

Victoria’s Positive Peer Support Experience

I feel very lucky that I had my baby pre lockdown, as I was able to access the face to face support from infant feeding specialist, BFN volunteers and peer support workers. 

My first baby was born just before Christmas 2019. I planned a hypnobirth, because I wanted a calm drug free delivery.  Unfortunately, my waters were low, when I went for a scan just before and everything changed.  

Between Monday and Wednesday, I had multiple interventions ending with me attached to a hormone drip.  By Thursday morning I was only 3 cm dilated, my baby was in distress and I had spiked a temperature of 40 degrees. My baby was finally born by emergency caesarean. I was gutted.  

My baby girl was put on my chest briefly, then whisked away to neonatal. We were both treated for sepsis and had cannulas fitted – which was very uncomfortable for us and for feeding. I worried about hurting her and I was in pain because of my surgery.  

To be honest, the hospital offered no specific breastfeeding support – and some of the midwives showing me had never breastfed before themselves. One midwife suggested I use a rolled up towel under my ‘pendulous” breasts’ but the sister in charge told me off for doing this.

Then my baby lost weight and I was pressured to cup feed. It was a very bad experience and I felt at a loss. I was desperate to get out of hospital and get the breastfeeding support I needed in comfortable and familiar surroundings.  Once I was allowed home (on a feeding plan a week later)


I had a breastfeeding peer support worker come to my house and spend over an hour with me working on positioning and attachment. She suggested tongue tie and I got a referral to the hospital where they said there was no tongue tie. But I was still experiencing issues and painful nipples.  

When my baby was two weeks old, I attended the BfN Bolsover breastfeeding support group and the support they gave was outstanding. To hear similar experiences from other mums was great. I cried the whole meeting. They offered me cake and comfort.  

I finally got a referral to an infant feeding specialist, who came to the house and confirmed that my baby had a posterior tongue tie. When my baby was 6 weeks old, we got her tongue tie released. I also got advice on positioning, and attachment which really helped.  

All this time I continued attending BfN support group at Bolsover, then the new Chesterfield support group that opened. By the time baby was 10 weeks old, I was no longer experiencing pain!  I was so relieved.

During lockdown I have still been able to access support on the phone from national breastfeeding helpline, health visitors and weekly zoom video calls with bfn support groups. 

I can’t bare to think if I’d had my baby during lockdown. I don’t imagine I’d still be feeding now. It makes me sad to think there are women out there struggling without the hands on face to face support. 
 
BfN peer support volunteers helped me with so much – with positioning and general confidence boosting. My husband came to the groups too, they helped him as he felt like a spare part until then!  

My baby is now 7 months old, exclusively breastfed and I’ve even mastered feeding her in a sling!  Thank you! 

Victoria and baby Alessia

10 Jul

National Breastfeeding Helpline – Summer Update

Last time I wrote an NBH update, we were in the very early stages of our response to the Covid 19 crisis, but already I had been amazed at how our helpline volunteers had responded.

I can honestly say that over the last couple of months, they have continued to step up and do so much to meet increased demand for helpline support.

As lockdown was announced in March we applied to SERCO (one of the NBH funders) for additional funding to help us meet the need for remote breastfeeding support. They approved our request and we quickly used this to set up a voicemail option on the helpline.

So now if callers are unable to get through when they ring us, they have the option to leave a message, and one of our fabulous team of (paid) voicemail supporters will call them back as soon as possible.  This intervention has meant that we are now able to either answer or give the option to leave a voicemail to every caller to the helpline during opening hours. 

We have some amazing statistics from April and May. Over those two months alone, our volunteers answered over 3000 calls! They spent over 1015 hours actually in calls  (112% increase on this period last year). So not only are we answering more calls, we are also talking for longer – the average call length has increased as well. 

In addition to this, our voicemail team have returned nearly 700 voicemails since the 23rd March when this feature was introduced. As well as our voice support, we have also answered 455 web chats and we have responded to 553 social media messages – a 48% increase on the same period last year on social media alone!

All of this during a time when everyone’s lives have been turned upside down – volunteers, like everyone, have faced uncertainties about work and income, kids suddenly at home all day needing help with home schooling, emotional worries about their own health or that of family members and friends. 

It’s been a truly challenging time but the amazing effort that our volunteers have put in on the helpline, web chat and social media has shone through and created a real beam of positivity. 

We’ve also had more opportunities during lockdown to get together virtually which has been lovely – we’ve had virtual breakfast get togethers, a virtual afternoon tea celebration during Volunteers Week, plus online Zoom chats to allow volunteers to discuss issues that are important to them. It’s been lovely to see so many people attending these virtual events. 

The thousands of families our volunteers have supported during this period will remember them foreverI want to say a massive thank you so much to every single volunteer for being there for other families during this time.

Felicity Lambert, NBH Manager
 

Some quotes from callers:

“Throughout lockdown accessing breastfeeding support has been really challenging, however I am very grateful for the knowledge, passion and empathy shown by the volunteers at the National Breastfeeding Helpline. Thank you very much!”

“This call has been a blessing I think I was meant to talk to you, I was ready to throw in the towel but after speaking to you I feel so reassured, the information you have given me is gold dust thank you so much.” 

“I first rang when my baby was 3 days old and things were not going well. You kept me going. A huge thank you to all of you, you are a very special lifeline to new mums like me right now.”

“Surprised to be able to speak online with someone on a Sunday after 8pm but truly grateful.”

“I am so very grateful to be able to access support from you and grateful to you volunteers for giving up their time to help. The volunteer was able to answer all of my questions and was so helpful. Thank you again.”

 

The National Breastfeeding Helpline is run in partnership between the BfN and the ABM. The initiative is funded by PHE and the Scottish Government. All calls are answered by trained volunteers, working in their own homes, using a virtual call centre. The helpline offers evidence based, non judgmental, friendly information, reassurance and support and is open every day of the year from 9.30am-9.30pm on 0300 100 0212. Support is available in Welsh and Polish on the same number.

www.facebook.com/nationalbreastfeedinghelpline

www.twitter.com/NBHelpline 

www.instagram.com/nationalbreastfeedinghelpline 

06 Jul

BfN Release 2020 Evaluation Highlights

In March 2020 we opened our annual evaluation survey to mums, families and health professionals.

The results of the survey help us to understand what we are doing well,  where we can improve and give us the evidence we need to help secure future funding. 

 

A summary of the evaluation results can be found here.

 

We have also created this short video to highlight the key findings:

 

 

Thank you to everyone who took part, we want you to know that your input is vital to our work. 

 

Download the 2020 Evaluation Infographic in PDF

Go to the 2019 Evaluation Survey

 

28 Jun

A Peer Support Poem

Peer-support is…

Peer-support is a coffee & maybe a biscuit or three. 

It’s people there, and not just for the cute baby, but people there for me. 

It’s kind words said by others that I took home and said to myself. 

It’s an exercise in self-care, it’s good for my mental health. 

It’s an ‘oh my goodness, yours does that too?’

It’s never feeling alone.

It’s a sense of community and togetherness.

It’s a hug from inside my phone. 

It’s the reassurance that I craved, in the most caring of voices. 

It’s the information that I needed to help me make informed choices. 

It’s moaning about sleep deprivation in a safe place, full of trust. 

It’s never caring that my top is stained or my hair hasn’t been brushed. 

It’s talking to people that believe in my strength as a woman and a mother. 

Peer support is all of the beautiful things that happen when people empower one another. 

It’s about empathy and understanding and not about knowing what is best. 

It’s about evidence-based, independent information that ALL families can access.

It’s about ensuring that the myths peddled are discredited and busted.

It’s about promoting sources of support that women and families know can be trusted. 

It’s about giving women back the confidence in their bodies society has left in tatters. 

And I don’t know about you, but I think that bloody matters. 

By Cara Jamieson

Scottish Volunteer Development Officer

 

24 Jun

Derbyshire knitted boob relay

Between the 20th and 26th June, Breastfeeding Network volunteers in Derbyshire are taking part in a knitted boob relay across the county.

Participants will be cycling, running, and walking the equivalent route of 170 miles to relay their knitted boobs, and taking in the locations of their usual drop in groups along the way.

Their aim is to let families in Derbyshire know that breastfeeding peer support is still available to them during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Just as partners have an important role in supporting a breastfeeding parent, the partners of volunteers will be joining in too – making the challenge even more fun for the entire family.

In partnership with Derbyshire Community Health, the volunteer peer supporters were quick to launch online support for Derbyshire families and have continued to run virtual drop in groups Monday to Friday. The groups offer evidence-based support, companionship and answer questions from parents about feeding their babies during these difficult times.

We are so proud of all of the volunteers who rapidly responded to the Covid-19 challenge. The Derbyshire team created videos to raise awareness of their groups and increase their reach. They have also hosted a series of Facebook lives covering maternal mental health, weaning and breastfeeding in a sling to name but a few. We’ve even seen volunteers taking part in live guest spots with other local baby groups, answering questions and sign posting mums back to BfN Derbyshire groups for further support as required. 

You can find out more about the knitted boob relay on the BfN Derbyshire Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/bfnderbyshire/

08 Jun

Pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and motherhood experiences of black women

BfN are committed to amplifying the pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and motherhood experiences of black women. Today we are grateful to Dr Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi of York St John University, who has willingly shared her experience of giving birth in the UK.

(A warning – her story below is very personal and harrowing to read, but sadly not unique.)  

We know that black women are five times more likely to die as a result of complications in their pregnancy than white women. In November 2018, commenting on the MBRRACE-UK report which published this shocking statistic (https://www.npeu.ox.ac.uk/mbrrace-uk/reports). We said this was unacceptable and required urgent action, and today our view has not changed, except clearly more needs to be done to tackle this. 

Importantly, as Ernestine’s story testifies, we need to work harder at removing the culture of silence that protects racists and allows racist behaviour (both blatant and unconscious) to play out in health and social care systems. ​

As a breastfeeding charity we are focused on our own role in this and we are committed to listening, learning and taking bold action to challenge racism. We are committed to using our platforms to amplify black mother’s voices, so that suffering and bad treatment doesn’t stay hidden behind silence. 

By sharing the experiences of mothers from black and minority ethnic communities, where they are willing for their stories to be shared, we hope to be able to highlight to policy influencers where the focus for change needs to be.

 

Racism: A major contributing factor to maternal complications in Black Women (My personal account)

My name is Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi, a black woman resident here in the UK and a mother of two beautiful girls. The killing of George Floyd simply because he is black and many others that lost their lives prematurely for the same reason calls for serious action from all especially black people like me.

There are many that have been killed or have suffered severe racism but have not spoken up. Today, I choose to speak up about some of my nasty experiences of racism. My account will be centred around my experience of childbirth and breastfeeding.

A report published by the Mother and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK (MBRRACE-UK) published in 2018 stated that black women in the UK were five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. Why is this the case?

Reports suggest that being black and pregnant carries more risk. Assuming that is the case, the deaths are facilitated by racist behaviour. Racism makes the doctors and midwives not pay attention to black women, and black mothers are less likely to speak up if they fear they won’t be taken seriously.

The reason for my account is to raise awareness and encourage more black women to speak out because we can’t allow such nasty treatment to continue.

An account of my experience

I had a very difficult pregnancy with my youngest daughter resulting from complications I developed when I had my first daughter. Many times, I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. In addition, I was constantly bullied and harassed by a group of teenage girls that went to a school close to where I lived. They called me names such as ‘fat’, ‘monkey’ and shouted at me to leave their country. Most of the time I avoided them and paid no attention to them. Part of the reason for my silence was because I knew that discrimination against blacks was rampant, and they were not the first to rain racist comments on me. Sometimes, I felt like I should not have come to the UK because of the hateful comments.

However, my health issues worsened with time. I was advised by the doctors to have a caesarean section at 36 weeks, but I refused because I wanted to carry the pregnancy to full term. At 38 weeks, I had my baby through caesarean section. I told the doctors that my body takes a long time to recover from an anaesthesia such as epidural (based on the experience with my first daughter). The C-section was done in the morning and by 16:00 a midwife came to tell me that I would be discharged that evening. I said that would not be possible because my legs were still numb.

By 18:00, a midwife came and asked if I had showered. I said no, because I still could not feel my legs. She became stroppy with me, saying I should have got out of bed and showered. I was shocked and surprised but did not respond because I was feeling exhausted and rather too emotional to answer. Many thoughts ran through my mind as to why she would speak to me like that. She left and returned with a bowl of water to assist me, but all she did was pull and push and grumbled to herself. I cried but had no voice to speak out because I did not think anyone would listen.

Each time the baby cried at night, I had to call a midwife to hand the baby to me to feed. No one spoke to me about breastfeeding or even asked if I needed any help. Unfortunately for me, my baby cried a lot that night. I got too scared to continue ringing the bell rather, I used the side of the bed to pull myself closer to the baby’s cot. When a midwife came in at 4:00am doing their rounds, she shouted at me for lying down on the bed with the baby. I tried to explain that I was feeding the baby, but she gave me no opportunity to speak. She took the baby back to her cot and left.

I felt less of a human, less of a mother and worthless. I cried but felt my tears were not helping me either because it gave me a headache. By 6:00am, I was on the phone asking my husband to come in, but unfortunately, he couldn’t because he needed to drop my first daughter off at school at 8:45am before coming to the hospital. At that time, I could feel little movement in my legs, but there were still very heavy. I literally had to drag them on the floor.

When my husband arrived by 9:30, the doctors came in and told me that I would be discharged as soon as the paediatrician had checked the baby. They completely ignored the fact that I was very tired, hadn’t really recovered from the anaesthesia and still had abdominal pain. The paediatrician checked the baby and said although she hadn’t opened her bowels yet, we could still go home and I should call the GP if the baby didn’t by the following day. We eventually left the hospital late afternoon that day.

When I got home, my abdominal pain got worst, my legs were still heavy, the baby was not latching on very well, my nipples were so sore already and the baby was crying a lot. When it got to about 20:00, the abdominal pain was unbearable. I was helpless on the floor with the baby screaming and my husband struggling to manage the situation. I refused to ring 999 because of the experience at the hospital.

We rang 111 instead and requested a doctor come out to me, because I couldn’t bear to go back to the hospital and re-live the previous night’s experience. The lady that answered the 111 call was concerned that I had a C-section the previous day and was home already with all the pain. However, after the initial questioning, it took 3 hours for a 111 doctor to call me back. She asked questions and told me she was on her way from about midnight, the doctor only got to me by 4:00am. She stood about 3 meters away from me and said she was in a rush to get somewhere. She asked me to bring a urine sample, which she only looked at and said, ‘Yes, there is blood in your urine, I will give you antibiotics’. I thought, of course there will be blood in my urine, I just had a baby. She gave me antibiotics and some pain killers and left. I took the medication and spent most of the time crying and wishing someone could just be a little supportive.

The midwife visited the following day and asked me how I was doing. I explained that I was struggling with the abdominal pain and breastfeeding. All she said was, call the GP if the pain isn’t subsiding and go to a baby group for breastfeeding support. She spent 10mins with me and left. 4 hours later, the health visitor arrived, checked the baby and asked me to take the baby to a nearby baby centre after a week for checks. That was all, she did not return. I sank into depression, but was unable to tell anyone what I was going through. I could not explain to my husband how I was feeling because I thought he had too much to deal with caring for us, and my other daughter.

The baby centre and baby groups were hugely unhelpful. When I walked through the door, I could feel all eyes on me. I was the only black woman in there. Rather than just having normal conversations, they start with questions like ‘which country do you come from?’, ‘how long have you been in the UK?’ I interpreted the questions as why are you here? This made it all the more difficult for me to ask for any help or want to go to a baby group. It took me well over eight weeks for the abdominal pain to subside and well over 6 months to start to feel like a human being again. I am fortunate to be here and to tell my story but others have not been that fortunate.

When I share my story with other black women and listen to their stories, I feel like mine was minor, but trust me it wasn’t. It breaks my heart because the pain black women go through is completely unnecessary. We have done nothing wrong being blacks.

Way forward 

Racism is deeply rooted in our society and even more difficult to call out because most acts are subtle. Generally, a woman pre and post childbirth, is overwhelmed with hormones and requires support. Postnatal depression is on the rise because of the hormones and the lack of support.

This is worse in black women because of the added racism. It will take the UK government and society a lot to get black women and men to trust them. My encouragement to black mothers is to speak up, because by doing so someone could help.

Do not be like me and deal with it on your own.

SPEAK UP! #BLACKLIVESMATTERS

19 May

What does breastfeeding peer support mean to you?

We think our volunteer breastfeeding peer supporters are amazing! A true lifeline for breastfeeding mums and their families across the UK. And we know that many people across our network share our feelings. 

If you are a mother, family member, BfN volunteer or health professional, we’d love to hear about the impact that breastfeeding peer support volunteers have had in your world. 

In times gone by, mothers would look to their close female networks if they needed breastfeeding support. Due to the changes in modern society and attitudes towards breastfeeding, many women find themselves at a loss in their attempts to seek support within their communities. Breastfeeding peer supporters help to bridge this gap by listening, empathising and supporting mothers along their breastfeeding journey. 

On the 1st June we plan to mark what would have been Volunteers’ Week and National Breastfeeding Week by asking the question ‘What does breastfeed support mean to you?’.

We will share a compilation of this feedback on our website, with our breastfeeding peer supporters and across our social media channels. 

Do you have time to share a story, picture or video with us about what breastfeeding peer support means to you? We’d love to hear from you!

How to get involved

Here’s a few ways you can get involved: