08 Jun

Pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and motherhood experiences of black women

BfN is 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: 

14 Apr

National Breastfeeding Helpline Update

We are always super busy on the National Breastfeeding Helpline but 2020 has been unlike anything we’ve seen before! In January and February we were already answering more calls than usual and then March hit us….

Our amazing volunteers (all trained and supported by BfN and the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers) had already upped their game in 2019 – we answered nearly 10% more calls last year than we did in 2018. 2019 was a record-breaking year in many ways – receiving more calls, answering more web chats and supporting more families via social media messages than in any other year before. 

Our fabulous volunteers listened and supported on the phone for 2798 hours during the year – that’s the equivalent of more than 116 full days! (and that doesn’t include all the time given on web chats and social media, or while waiting for calls to come through either)  More than 12,000 families were directly supported across the helplines, language lines, web chat and social media. Such an amazing achievement.

So to 2020, and after our record breaking January and February, as March approached, we thought maybe, just maybe, March 2020 could be the month where we got every single volunteer to log on and take a call, and we gave ourselves an ambitious but achievable calls answered target to reach. It would require all our volunteers to give a little bit extra.

The beginning of March was busy, but not that out of the ordinary.  Volunteers were doing a brilliant job as always and we were answering more calls than usual. Then suddenly everything changed when Coronavirus hit the UK – people started isolating at home, healthcare professionals more overstretched than ever, breastfeeding drop in and antenatal groups forced to close, new mums being discharged from hospitals even more quickly than before…. And the NBH volunteers really stepped up! 

Since around the 12th March, there’s hardly been a day when the service hasn’t had 100% coverage on the helpline – 5 or 6 volunteers are often logged in at once. The team have answered almost every single call first time, and for the first time ever a voicemail option for callers has been introduced, so even if they can’t get through, they can leave a message and one of the newly recruited NBH Voicemail team will return their call as soon as possible. The service has also increased our web chat availability, social media responses and increased the amount of remote supervision that’s available. 

Needless to say, the team SMASHED target we set ourselves and answered more calls in a month than we ever have before. They also spent longer on the phone listening and supporting.  And all of this amazing support for the helpline has happened at the same time as (like everyone) volunteers have faced challenges – unknowns about their paid work, worries about relatives and family and their own health, have had to fit in home education for their kids alongside their jobs….  

We are completely in awe of and humbled by what the volunteers are doing on the helpline at the moment and cannot thank them enough for their hard work. They are providing such a vital service to families all over the UK, and they are just quietly getting on with it. 

A huge and heartfelt thank you to each and every one of them. 

Felicity Lambert, NBH Manager and Caroline Bolton, ABM Helpline Manager 

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 

11 Apr

What BfN means to me.

By Kirstin Worsley – Scottish PfG Project Manager

To be honest, until about 4 years ago, when asked what BfN was, I would have said it was where you went to print resources about thrush and mastitis to use in training new mums to become Peer Supporters (oh and I knew there was a helpline, because I had called it once).

Going back a bit, about 20 years ago and after the birth of my third child, I realised that breastfeeding was NOT easy, it wasn’t something babies just did and it definitely could hurt to the point of feeling that my nipples were about to fall off.

In that moment, when someone suggested I train as a Peer Supporter I thought, like many of us do, that if I could just help one other mum to feel better about feeding, to reduce her pain and help her to find a way to give her baby what she had thought about hen she was pregnant, then that would be fine. 

Move on 15 years from that point and a house move and I was training with UNICEF Baby Friendly and helping more women in my part of the world to continue their feeding journey.

Then, one day about 9 years ago, someone actually offered me a job where I would get money to train mums to be peer supporters (my husband’s words were “you can actually get paid to do this sort of thing??!!”) and since then it has become the biggest passion of my life, filling every day with something breastfeeding related, although of course my family are still my total world.

So, when my manager received a call from Sarah Edwards, 4 years ago, asking if there was anyone who would be interested in training to take calls on the National Helpline, I did a bit of real research about the organisation, discovered it had become so much more than a leaflet about mastitis and decided to “give it a go”.

Roll on 4 years, and I am now taking calls and answering webchat and social media messages to my heart’s content. I love listening to a woman, sometimes with tears in her eyes and helping her to work through her thoughts and fears and come to a point where she feels able to move forward with her feeding (or have a plan to stop, if that was her reason for calling).

In the meantime, I carried on with my “day job” training peer supporters and looking after a troop of volunteers in the Scottish Borders. ( I don’t manage volunteers, they tend to be the ones keeping me on the right track!).

But then…..the Scottish Government decided to fund the implementation of breastfeeding support as a national project and this is when BfN became an even bigger part of my life as I became the Scottish Project Lead. So, now, not only do I still talk and message wonderful families on the Helpline but I also get to see support appearing in new areas across Scotland and meet lots of wonderful mums who are training to become new supporters of mums in their communities. BfN are giving me so many new opportunities.

The supporters, supervisor and tutor courses have given me the chance to make connections with other BfN people across the country and at this point I send a big ‘HI!’ to you all!

If I had to put it into words, what BfN means to me, it is “family, team effort and determination”. I know it can be hard, funding is always an issue, mums always seem to be receiving less care than they deserve or the staff around them are able to give, despite their best efforts, and we sometimes feel that we are only a tiny fish in a big puddle. However, if a younger me had told me I would one day be working for the organisation that I had called 20 years ago, I am not entirely sure I would have believed them and yet, here I am.

So, believe in yourselves, you can do this, you are doing it and you are all absolutely fantastic!

07 Apr

Coronavirus update from BfN’s CEO

I was heartened to receive a tweet in the last week which read ‘the rest of the world has finally caught up with the way @NBHelpline and @BfN_Uk volunteers have been working for years! #Remoteworking’

BfN_CEO

It was in response to an image shared of our volunteers’ home work stations – places they shared where they take calls from mothers calling the National Breastfeeding Helpline. While I know not all of our volunteering and commissioned work is provided remotely, never more than now have I been thankful for BfN’s strong helpline and telephony skills, our vibrant online community of peer supporters, our established working from home culture and broad volunteer base that branches out across the whole of the UK – just the strength we have needed to call on during this pandemic.

It’s now more important than ever that we stay connected to each other, not only because sharing knowledge will help us plan and learn but because while stabilising immediate support for women and families we can also stay in touch about how we navigate the future.

All our lives have been turned upside down by the Coronavirus crisis – some of us may be finding ourselves closer to loved ones in our isolation, others may feel lost without the routine of social interaction. Without a doubt mothers looking for breastfeeding support will find their usual services drastically cut back or gone, they will find their feelings of worry and of being overwhelmed heightened as health care professionals struggle to meet demand. This is why at the Breastfeeding Network our immediate priority has been to stabilise our offer of remote support across our helplines and in communities by offering digital alternatives. In tandem we have been working with partners including – Scottish Government, Public Health England, NHS and with other third sector partners on sharing resources that will be a vital support line for women and families for many months to come.   

Responding to the crisis

I want to highlight a few things we have done to respond to the crisis – for mothers and families, for peer supporters – volunteers and paid staff, for our tutors and supervisors and for healthcare professionals in the front line or responding to the virus.

For mothers and families – we have strengthened the National Breastfeeding Helpline offer and secured additional resourcing in England. Against the usual opening hours, we have appealed to volunteers to help us respond to all calls, added in a voicemail option so any missed calls can be returned and we are doubling our remote supervision for volunteers. There is dedicated social media support that extends to enquiries on BfN’s Drugs in Breastmilk Information Service. At time of writing we are answering close to 100% of all calls to the helpline. I am so inspired and proud of what our volunteers on NBH have been able to achieve working with our sister organisation – Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, the strength of this long held partnership has been a rock of support.

With a lack of consistent reliable information being an often quoted issue from Mothers we knew that we had to develop our online resources for women and families in response to the crisis. A small team of writers mobilised quickly to develop FAQ’s that can be found here.  Content evolves in response to enquiries from the helpline and on social media and is quickly updated online.

In addition, third sector organisations working in infant feeding have come together to highlight the support that women and families can access during this time. The collaboration and generous offer of the third sector has been impressive, our combined effort can be found here.

When the Government moved from ‘manage’ to ‘contain’, it was with a heavy heart that we suspended our face to face support services including community drop-ins, training, events and home visits. Only exceptionally is face to face work continuing under the strictest of arrangements, only at the request of the local authority area or health board. It’s absolutely the right thing to do as the safety of our staff and volunteers comes first. Some of our volunteers are pregnant and with few exceptions have dependents on whom good health will be relied upon so we take this very seriously. Areas supported by a small central team are stabilising services locally through offering digital support and the charity has purchased Zoom licences to enable this to happen. Project areas are reporting that they are trialling helper training, supervision get-togethers, local team meetings and even 1-1 support with Mothers. We are learning fast and will look to test our digital capacity even further as we plan to hold our May BfN Directors’ Meeting by Zoom – strengthening our digital service offer is going to be an item of strategic importance.

We have a big network of volunteers and staff and communicating well, under pressure and accurately has called for a lot of focus. We are a small central team with contracted support on law and finance. We have managed to achieve a series of well-timed and high quality briefings that have included guidance on HR, IT, safeguarding, upskilling tools and tips on coping in isolation and remote working.  We are working hard to fast-track our online training offer and support our tutors and supervisors to feel able to offer tutoring over online means.

How we are supporting our healthcare professionals

Within a week of the social distancing measures coming in, BfN were invited to be part of the conversation with Government about what the voluntary sector can do to support the NHS. This conversation was held in the very real context that up to 30% of the NHS workforce will be undermined by the Coronavirus. Today with other organisations we submitted our collective response with the honest hope that third sector might get recognised as a vital part of society.

We are asking Governments in Scotland and England to help us raise even more awareness of the NBH, our online resources and of BfN’s Drugs in Breastmilk Information Service. These services directly support midwives and health visitors on the frontline of the healthcare response and many of these services do not rely on NHS staff. In project areas peer supporters are offering support remotely in their communities – maintaining a vital presence that health care professionals can call upon.

The longer term impact of the Coronavirus is still to be calculated but while it takes its toll on our relationships and erodes our traditional ways of communicating, social distancing is also offering us a choice, a choice to be curtailed by the measures or to be connected differently. There are concerns in the dash for digital – real concerns about inequalities and inclusion as well as our human rights like privacy. For now, our priority is to stabilise support and ensure that our combined efforts support mothers as well as possible while also looking after ourselves.

Heartfelt thanks to you all for your courage and commitment to supporting women and families and breastfeeding. You are a true inspiration!

Best Wishes

Shereen

19 Feb

Help and Support on Tongue Tie

There’s been a bit of conversation about tongue tie on social media after the Loose Women episode that highlighted the challenges experienced by Stacey Solomon

We’ve heard from a lot of women that the feedback that Stacey received on air didn’t match their understanding of tongue tie. So we wanted to help clear up any confusion and point mums in the right direction if they need support.

A tongue tie can restrict normal tongue movement in babies and can lead to breastfeeding difficulties. This can include being unable to attach to the breast, or staying attached, pain while feeding and slow weight gain. Some babies can feed without difficulties, others may find feeding easier after a frenotomy.

The key to identifying and dealing with tongue tie is accessing support from somebody appropriately skilled and well informed as soon as possible – such as your local infant feeding team.

Another good place to start is National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212, which is open 9.30am – 9.30pm every single day of the year. Your call will be answered by highly trained volunteers, who are also mums with personal breastfeeding experience.

For more information on tongue tie:

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/tongue-tie/

https://www.laleche.org.uk/tongue-tie/

https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/sams-story-and-ton…/

https://www.tongue-tie.org.uk/

https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriend…/support-for-parents/…/

https://gpifn.org.uk/tongue-tie/