13 Dec

BfN statement on Financial Incentives for Breastfeeding research

A breastfeeding babyBfN statement on the ‘Effects of Financial Incentives for Breastfeeding’ research

The Breastfeeding Network welcomes this new research to explore cash incentives to encourage breastfeeding, targeted in areas where breastfeeding is unlikely to happen.

With such a substantial body of evidence showing the benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and babies, we believe everyone should have the right to make an informed decision about how they feed their baby – and to receive support, if they need it, to make it work for them.  Just because a family may happen to live in an area where there is little or no culture of breastfeeding, it shouldn’t mean they should be overlooked – and this study aimed to test what might make a difference in those areas.

We should remember that the availability of good quality breastfeeding support is lacking in many, if not most communities across the UK and we know that support is what makes the difference for many families on their breastfeeding journeys.  We should also be mindful that if more mothers were to choose to initiate breastfeeding, for whatever reason, there would be an even greater need to provide additional support services for all families.

For latest news about this research study, see the UNICEF Baby Friendly website and this BBC News video and article

22 Nov

Westminster 20th anniversary celebration

On the evening of Tuesday 14th November 2017, BfN volunteers, staff members, friends and MPs from across the country gathered together in Westminster to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Breastfeeding Network. We heard from a number of speakers, including Sharon Hodgson MP, Francesca Entwhistle from Unicef Baby Friendly, as well as from our CEO Shereen Fisher and some of our brilliant volunteers.
You can read the transcripts of Shereens speech, plus our volunteers, Marion and Gosia here.

 

15 Nov

A list of MPs who came to our 20th anniversary reception in Parliament

The infant feeding APPGThank you for inviting your MP to come to our 20th birthday reception in Parliament last night and the Infant Feeding APPG yesterday afternoon. Here is a list of all the MPs who came.

If your MP is on either list, please do thank them for coming along, consider following up with them by inviting them to come along to a drop in group (if you feel it’s appropriate) or meet with them to discuss issues around infant feeding in your area. Having a relationship with your MP really does help in campaigning for better breastfeeding support services.

At our 20th anniversary parliamentary reception the following MPs were there:

  • Alison Thewliss – SNP MP for Glasgow Central
  • David Linden – SNP MP for Glasgow East
  • Sharon Hodgson – Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West
  • Mohammed Yasin – Labour MP for Bedford
  • Mike Gapes – Labour and Co-operative MP for Ilford South
  • George Hollingberry – Conservative MP for Meon Valley
  • Steve McCabe – Labour MP for Birmingham, Selly Oak
  • Stephen Morgan – Labour MP for Portsmouth South
  • Marion Fellows – SNP MP for Motherwell and Wishaw
  • Eleanor Smith – Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West
  • Bill Grant – Conservative MP for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

And at the APPG earlier on in the day the following MPs were there:

  • Alison Thewliss – SNP MP for Glasgow Central
  • Bim Afolami – Conservative MP for Hitchen and Harpenden
  • Jon Ashworth – Labour and Co-operative MP for Leicester South
  • Carol Monaghan – SNP MP for Glasgow North West
  • Gavin Newlands – SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North
  • Jim Shannon – DUP MP for Strangford

If you know your MP was there and we have missed them out then do let us know. We have tried to make this list as accurate as possible, but there were times when we were speaking or organising things, and may have missed somebody.

If your MP said they would come but didn’t turn up, it could well be because there was an important Brexit debate going on. It would be great if you could still follow up with them and invite them to meet you/visit your group/find out more etc.

It was very clear yesterday that the MPs who turned up had been invited by their constituents and that was the reason they had chosen to be there. It really works!

You can also ask all your MPs to drop in to the UNICEF Baby Friendly Call to Action event on the 5th December – more details on that here .

Here’s a selection of photos from our day yesterday. Thank you to everyone who made it possible. Here’s to the next 20 years!

14 Nov

From new mum to Peer Supporter: BfN volunteer stories

Children wearing 'ask my mum about breastfeeding' topsAs part of our 20th anniversary parliamentary reception in Westminster tonight, two of our breastfeeding supporters will be sharing their breastfeeding journeys from new Mum, to qualifying as Breastfeeding Supporters for BfN. We like their stories so much, we want to share them with you too! So here they are.

Gosia’s story
I’ve always liked to think about breastfeeding in two ways. First one, more personal, related to my own experience and second more social.

I think I’m blessed to have breastfed my children for as long as I wanted. My older daughter for 50 months and going strong with my 15 month old boy.

There were a couple of factors that had an impact on fulfilling my breastfeeding wishes. I gave birth to my babies in this country, which at least partially implemented protective law for breastfeeding couples. Moreover, all women in my family breastfeed and this prepared me for the idea that breastfeeding can be associated with some pain in the beginning, although it shouldn’t be. Also my husband and sister were a great support when I most needed it. Possibly this support was the most important part.

On the social level I hope for every child to be healthy and content. This wish pushed me to take action and promote, protect and support breastfeeding.

A lot of supporters are using the comparison of bike riding and breastfeeding. You don’t know how to ride a bike unless you see someone doing it and then practising. So often I feel like a caring tutor who shows women how to ride, shows which path may be less bumpy, gives options for balancing wheels or a bar and most of all encourages and motivates.

I am grateful for volunteering with BfN, making a difference to individuals and the future generation.

A baby's hand pulling at a mother's topMarion’s story

I became a mother at the young and tender age of 41. Medically, I was considered a geriatric mum. However I thought of myself as a lazy mum because I wanted to breastfeed. There was no way I was going to get up in the middle of the night to prepare a bottle or sterilize equipment when all I had to do was lift my top up and feed my baby. My younger sister prepared me – go through the pain and after 3 weeks it will be fine. I never knew that I could access support.

What I did learn was that my newborn baby cried when I put her down and stopped crying when I put her to my chest. It just made sense to keep her close whilst I was also recovering from the birth. A quiet life in the early days whilst I rest and recover.

I have also read that some cultures stay at home for 40 days and 40 nights, partly to recover from the birth and to build a baby’s immune system. I decided that’s exactly what I should do. I was in no hurry to meet the world.  My world was with me, feeding and sleeping safely together.

I read so many baby books but my maternal instinct kicked in. What do animals do? They keep their young close – cuddly and warm, what I now know as skin to skin. Allow them to feed as often and as much as they want . Babies, when they have access to food can not only feed themselves but control how much they want to eat. All I had to do was to sit and learn how to maximize the best feeding position so that I was comfortable and my baby fed efficiently. In fact that can take from 2-3 days up to several weeks to learn.

I found out that there was a local breastfeeding drop-in run by The Breastfeeding Network a charitable organisation that I could attend on a weekly basis, which I did.

What I never realized at the time was how many other women struggle with breastfeeding and that I could help and support them. After a while I took a course to become a breastfeeding helper, and I was soon helping out at my local breastfeeding drop-in.

I live in Islington and I feel lucky that the London borough of Islington commissioned the Breastfeeding Network to run local breastfeeding drop-ins.  I volunteered for 2 and half years. Soon I found myself on another course training to become a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter and I was then paid to support mothers in both UCLH and Whittington hospital. I was trained to visit mothers at home and qualified to run my own breastfeeding drop-in in Islington.


 

 

08 Nov

Invite your MP to our 20th birthday reception

shereen on stageNext week the Breastfeeding Network is celebrating our 20th anniversary with a parliamentary reception in Westminster. This will be held after an All Party Parliamentary Group meeting on Infant Feeding and Inequalities on Tuesday 14th November. We would like to ask you to invite your MP to these two events, which are an important opportunity for us to campaign for breastfeeding support services in the midst of severe cuts to services this year.

An anniversary is always a time for great pride and celebration, and we’re looking forward to telling MPs about how our charity was founded by a group of empowered women with a desire to improve things for breastfeeding mums like themselves. BfN was set up by a group of breastfeeding peer supporters who, in their experience of supporting families, saw a need for truly independent breastfeeding support, free from commercial funding and influence.

That was 20 years ago, and we still have their founding vision at our core – we provide independent, evidence-based information and support to help build awareness of breastfeeding to individuals and organisations, and to support mums in their choice to breastfeed. The parliamentary reception is a chance to tell MPs about all we’ve achieved over those 20 years:

  • we have established projects in over 17 areas of the UK, with staff and volunteers supporting mums before birth, on hospital wards and at home in communities
  • supported hundreds of thousands of callers to the National Breastfeeding Helpline (with Welsh and Polish options) and Supporterline
  • grown a network of over 1000 trained volunteers
  • offered a unique Drugs in Breastmilk information service for parents and health professionals which has answered tens of thouands of queries

But perhaps more importantly, the APPG and the reception also provide an opportunity to talk to MPs about the devastating cuts to services that breastfeeding support is facing this year. A UNICEF survey of infant feeding leads across England in 2017 revealed that over half of breastfeeding support services had seen cuts. Further research done by Cardiff University found that breastfeeding peer supporters were available in only 56% of NHS regions. The impact of all this is that families aren’t receiving the support they need to continue to breastfeed. 80% of mums who stop breastfeeding in the early days do so before they want to. And of course you will probably have heard that the UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.

We too have been personally affected by these cuts, in 2017 we were told that there was no funding available to continue breastfeeding peer-support in Blackpool, a scheme we have been running with great success for 10 years. Since 2007 Blackpool Star Buddies have helped thousands of parents, babies and families to breastfeed against the odds and it is disappointing that such a high-performing scheme has been forced to close.

The APPG and the reception are a great opportunity for us to influence MPs, to show them just how important breastfeeding support is to families in their constituencies, and to make the case that if we want breastfeeding rates in the UK to rise then we need to adequately resource support services.

MPs need to know how their constituents feel about these issues, and so we are asking you to please write to your MP and ask them to attend the All Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding and Inequalities and The Breastfeeding Network Parliamentary reception. You can find guidance on how to contact your MP, and some sample text you could use to invite them to these events in this Guide for contacting your MP.

 

 

 

20 Oct

Supporting positive conversations about feeding choice and mental health in the perinatal period

The relationship between how a woman feeds her baby, and her perinatal mental health is a complex one.

Our emotional state and mental health in the perinatal period may affect how we decide to feed our baby. Choosing how we feed our little one may be based on many things such as how our own mum fed us, advice from professionals and what we have seen friends and family do. Our emotional wellbeing – factors such as how we feel about ourselves, our bodies and our relationships – can also influence this decision.

For women with a diagnosed mental health problem, feeding decisions may be influenced by considerations about how best to manage their condition during the perinatal period. This is particularly true for women who take medication. With the right advice and support, it should be possible for most women to find and use medication that is compatible with breastfeeding if they desire to do so. However, sadly, approximately 15% of calls to the Drugs in Breastmilk Information service are from those who have received inconsistent or negative advice on breastfeeding whilst taking medication for their mental health. Mothers contacting the service regularly tell us of their confusion and hesitancy in combing breastfeeding and their medication. It is a worry that there so many women who may unnecessarily stop breastfeeding or attempt to limit their exposure to medication because they have not received evidence-based consistent information and skilled support about mental health and breastfeeding.  The need for evidence based services such as the independent Drugs in Breastmilk information service that professionals and women can access for advice is so important if we are to create a culture where feeding choice can be respected and supported.

How we feed our baby may also affect our mental health. Research shows that breastfeeding releases hormones which can help reduce stress in mothers, and some women report that it can reduce the symptoms of postnatal depression. A large study found that, for mothers who showed signs of depression before the birth, four weeks exclusive breastfeeding (for those who had intended to breastfeed), exercised a protective effect. For the women who had not been depressed in pregnancy there was no such protection.

However, conversely, some mothers feel that breastfeeding can exacerbate feelings of depression or anxiety. The following quotes show the very different ways in which women feel that breastfeeding affects their mental state:

“I possibly breastfed for longer – it felt like one of the few things I was getting right as a mother.”

“My mental health issues played a significant role in stopping. Once I decided to stop my mental health issues got significantly worse.”

“I think my inability to breastfeed caused the PND.”

“Breastfeeding had a positive impact on my mental health, helping me with sleep & anxiety.”

Women who struggle to feed their baby, or stop breastfeeding before they intended to, are particularly vulnerable to a decline in their mental health. Discomfort, pain or concern about supply, can lead to stress and anxiety for women. Any feeding difficulties, whether breast or bottle, can cause worry and distress. The research cited above showed that there was a particularly high risk of postnatal depression amongst women who planned to breastfeed and then stopped before they intended to, demonstrating both the importance of supporting women to breastfeed their baby, but also of support if this is not successful.

How we feed our baby is such a personal choice, and can, for some people, leave a lasting impact on our lives. Older women who did not feed their child in the way they may have wished to can recount their feeding history to young mothers often with sadness and regret. Our feelings about our feeding decisions can also be influenced by societal pressures. Some women report having felt pressured to breastfeed or feel unsupported to formula feed. We hear of women feeling guilt and judged for formula feeding; women feeling isolated because they are afraid to breastfeed in public; and far too many stopping breastfeeding because there was a failure to support them with practical skills to increase their physical comfort and supply.

All of the evidence and arguments outlined above reinforce the importance of enabling all mothers to access positive conversations, good information and support to enable them to feed their baby the way they wish to, and to do so in a way that is as pain-free, low stress and rewarding as possible.

Support can and should come in many forms; from close family or friends, it may involve a specific breastfeeding supporter or helpline, or a midwife, family nurse, doctor or health visitor.  This should be non-judgemental, encouraging, patient and kind.  The complex and multifactorial reasons for lower breastfeeding rates among women with depressive illness (Pope & Mazmanian, 2016) suggests there may be an opportunity to link the perinatal mental health professionals with those working to support infant feeding.  As part of the developing pathways of care locally, this interdisciplinary working seems like relationship worth nurturing so that professionals are equipped and women can receive evidence based and supportive care whatever their feeding choice and whatever their mental state.

We need to offer a safe place for mothers to discuss their choices around infant feeding. We need to listen to mothers and offer them options, allowing them to make their own informed decisions.

Mothers should be able to get the support that they need when they need it. Their decisions should be respected and honoured and women should feel listened to rather than bombarded with conflicting advice.

Whether breastfeeding, formula feeding or doing a bit of both, all mothers need consistent support.  This might be in getting breastfeeding established, continuing as long as they and baby choose, or in stopping – whenever that may be– without judgement. Support may also need to be in how to make a formula feed up correctly and safely, or how best to position your baby with a bottle.

Whatever our decision is to feed our little one, and however our mental state is affected during this time, we should expect to feel supported and respected in our feeding decision, and with our mental wellbeing.  With many support services for mothers cut to the bone we are all going to need to understand mental health and breastfeeding better – partners, grandparents, friends of new mothers will need better information to offer support. It’s vital that we share information and research on the relationship between breastfeeding and maternal mental health.

By Shereen Fisher, Chief Executive of The Breastfeeding Network and Wendy Jones , Pharmacist and registered Supporter and Trainer with the Breastfeeding Network. Also Beckie Lang, Interim Strategic Lead, Mothers and Babies in Mind at the Maternal Mental Health Alliance.

This blog was previously posted on The Maternal Mental Health Alliance website, here

Resources:

http://www.rcgp.org.uk/clinical-and-research/toolkits/-/media/B789CC91113D4FB3816D11C5C99BB2B4.ashx

Explore MABIM’s tools for leaders working in perinatal mental health: www.maternalmentalhealthalliance.org/mumsandbabiesinmind/mabim-tools

Mums and Babies in Mind supports local leaders in four areas of England to improve care and quality of life for mums with mental health problems during pregnancy and the first year of life, and their babies. 

 

07 Oct

20th Anniversary Conference live blog

We’ll be live blogging the conference throughout the day here, scroll down and see the live updates below. Here’s the programme so you know what to look out for:

09:30-09:45 Shereen Fisher (CEO) Opening remarks and welcome
09:50-10.35 Dr Amy Brown  

Who really decides how we feed our babies?

10:40-11.25 Dr BJ Epstein  

Supporting LGBTQ families

11:25-11:45                                                          Break
11:50-12:30 Dr Katie Hinde, supported by Professor Sophie Scott What we don’t know about mothers’ milk – video, pre-recorded keynote speech, microbiome, followed by Q&A session.
12:35-13:05 Dr Kirsty Darwent The Infant Feeding Genogram: A tool for exploring family infant feeding narratives and identifying support needs
13:05-13:45 Lunch: including an informal session with Lorna Hartwell and some other founder members looking back at the early days of BfN – sharing their memories and taking you back to where it all began 20 years ago!
13:50-14:50 Small group discussion/training sessions  

Dr BJ Epstein – Supporting LGBTQ families

Lynn Timms – Tongue-tie: how can YOU support these babies with their feeding?
Dr Kirsty Darwent – The Infant Feeding Genogram: Supporting Women and Families in Practice
Walk and Talk – a walk (or run) round Birmingham city centre while chatting about mental health and breastfeeding #RunChatCake
14:55-15:35 Mairi Hedderwick Author & illustrator, Katie Morag (banned artwork)               – The Fuss Katie Morag caused
15:40-15:50 Felicity Lambert  

The National Breastfeeding Helpline Awards

15:50-16:00 Shereen Fisher Closure
04 Oct

Mothering the mother – a vital part of increasing breastfeeding rates 

Amy BrownDr Amy Brown is Associate Professor in Child Public Health at Swansea University. She is also the author of Breastfeeding Uncovered, a book which aims to highlight normal breastfeeding, challenge barriers and call on society to support breastfeeding. She will be the key note speaker at our conference on Saturday, and has written this guest blog for us ahead of her speech.

 

“Mothering the mother is a phrase often heard during pregnancy and birth. Look after the mother, care for her, support her emotional needs … and she will feel more empowered to grow, birth and care for her baby. A phrase (and actions)  that makes so much sense and is seen in many cultures across the world.

But might this form of love and care also be a key part of increasing our breastfeeding rates too? Of course, education, guidance and support directly about breastfeeding are vital parts of ensuring new mothers are knowledgeable and equipped to breastfeed. But if we really want to stand a chance of making this work, we must look outside of breastfeeding too.

Having a baby is hard, especially the first time. It is life changing and can be so overwhelming. Suddenly you have a brand new person to care for who is reliant on you for all their needs. And they communicate this well – after all, if they didn’t they wouldn’t survive. We aren’t baby giraffes who can get up and walk shortly after birth; we are entirely reliant on our caregivers for warmth, protection and food. Our babies need us, and we are hardwired to need to respond to them.

But as normal and natural as it is for babies to want to be kept close, this can understandably often feel exhausting and all consuming for new mothers. Many have gone from having freedom (and lots of sleep) one minute to having a baby who wants to feed often, chat at night and certainly doesn’t want to be put down. It can feel like all they do is hold, soothe and feed on repeat. Many weren’t prepared for it and start to worry that something is wrong. Might feeding him again create bad habits? Am I spoiling him? Is he manipulating me? What is this rod for my back people keep talking about?

But babies aren’t broken. They can’t manipulate. And it’s impossible to spoil them. In fact responding to, caring for and simply loving a baby is one of the best things you can do to ensure your baby grows into a happy, confident and loving adult. But society doesn’t recognize how valued just sitting and feeding your baby should be. Get your life back it shouts! Get back to work! The gym! At least get out of the house… and what about your poor partner? You must keep them happy too! And whilst I mention it … have you seen the dust? Your home isn’t looking like that celebrity new baby spread is it … oh and those nails… how on earth haven’t you managed to fit in a manicure? Priorities…

New mothers don’t need to get their lives back. That old life has gone and a whole new world has begun. But what they do need is support. In many cultures mothers are cared for and looked after for at least 6 weeks after the birth. Their meals are cooked, the housework is done and they are nurtured and supported. It isn’t a coincidence that rates of breastfeeding are low and levels of postnatal depression high.  Meanwhile when I recently googled ‘six weeks rest after the birth’ I got back a series of articles on avoiding heavy exercise.

In Western culture mothers often don’t have that support after the birth. Many live hundreds of miles away from home. Families are smaller and dispersed and many grandmothers will be working. Mothers are now often left to care for their babies alone, which we are simply not designed to do. No wonder the frequent needs of a baby feel overwhelming, especially for breastfeeding mums who might feel they do nothing but feed, day and night. And that’s before the pressure to get back in shape and regain your social life comes into play.

Unfortunately industry has jumped on this vulnerability and recognized a gap in the market for isolated, exhausted mothers looking for a solution (and a good nights sleep).  Despite the fact that research shows that breastfeeding mothers often get more sleep overall, the subtle and not so subtle messages coming out of formula promotion are that it will help your baby sleep (nope) or that someone else can feed the baby (missing the fact that they rarely want to do this at 3am). But these messages are pervasive and you can see why many an exhausted mother considers a bottle at that 3am feed. Unfortunately many make this move, it doesn’t affect sleep and they can feel even worse.

But it’s wider than just messages to move to formula. Baby care books promise to get your baby into a sleep and feeding routine and countless devices are arriving on the market promising hands free feeding or to rock your baby to sleep for you. These products are not the answer. Following a strict routine for feeding is linked to stopping breastfeeding, often due to problems with milk supply, as it interferes with everything we know about the importance of responsive feeding for building a good milk supply.  It’s unsurprising that routines often don’t work and sadly leave many mothers feeling even worse than when they began, even tipping them into postnatal depression.

So what is the solution? Simple. We need to care for our new mothers better. Mother them. Love them. Invest in giving them the time and support they need after the birth and throughout those early months and years. Think wider than breastfeeding and ensure that new mothers are as rested, supported and yes, cherished, as much as possible.

Work with partners and grandmothers where possible to explain why new mothers need to be mothered and what that might look like. And no, it doesn’t look like a bottle, even though that might seem like the perfect solution when your partner or daughter is exhausted and desperate for a break. Do some housework. Cook her a meal. Sit with her. If she’s happy to let you, take the baby for a walk between feeds, perhaps in a sling – but always check first. Separating her from her baby might make her feel anxious.

To really make this work though government must step up and ensure that mothers, babies and families are truly invested in. After all, they are our future and ensuring the best possible start in life reaps rewards for all of us. Mothers (and partners) need and deserve extended well-paid maternity and paternity leave and flexible working on return. Promote the importance of men taking time off and being there for their partner. No one should need to go back to work for financial reasons when they are still nourishing and caring for a baby.

Where family cannot be there, invest in creating networks and support groups for new mothers. Enhance access to doulas and invest in high quality support from professionals throughout pregnancy and after the birth, from professionals who have the time to sit and support. Caring for mothers should be seen as a public health responsibility and not something that simply happens if they are lucky.

Having a baby will always be life changing and exhausting but it needn’t be so overwhelming to the point where breastfeeding feels incompatible. With the right support and investment we can nurture a generation of new families and show them just what a valuable role they play. And with it, create an environment and support network that really supports new mothers to breastfeed. Mother the mother and she has the time, energy and peace of mind to get breastfeeding off to the best possible start.

27 Sep

Banned! Images of breastfeeding in a children’s story book.

Mairi HedderwickMairi Hedderwick is the author of Katie Morag, a children’s book and now CBeebies children’s programme about a small girl’s life on a Scottish island. In this guest blog post, she talks about her experience including images of breastfeeding in the Katie Morag books.

‘When I created Katie Morag in the early ‘80s my indulgence was to celebrate our early family years in the Hebridean island of Coll, with all the highs and lows of family life in a small remote community sans electricity and mains water, daily activities so conditioned by the weather. Oil lights and water from the well no longer feature in Katie Morag’s island, which has rightly come into the 20th century. But her relationships, especially in her family, are timeless.

I had been an illustrator for many years, learning how to enhance other’s text. With limited text for my first picture storybook I created visual subplots full of detail for the reader to explore and question. In the third book Katie Morag and the tiresome Ted, all about sibling rivalry on the arrival of a new baby, I was a delighted to milk the opportunity to have the mother breastfeeding. I loved drawing the delicate pointillism surrounding her nipple.

Image of breastfeeding in Katie Morag

My editor at that time was nervous at such exposure but I insisted. She was proved right as several libraries banned the book from their shelves. But 27 years on, Mrs McColl’s breast is still there to be shared by all babies, toddlers, children, mums and dads. Even teenagers.

Over the years, I have been delighted that several breastfeeding organisations have used the image, and others, for publicity. Several surgeries in the Highland region in Scotland display posters with Katie Morag, the new baby and ‘the breast’. Katie Morag is very proud.’

Mairi Hedderwick, author of Katie Morag

Mairi Hedderwick will be speaking more about her struggle to include images of breastfeeding in her books at the 2017 Breastfeeding Network conference and AGM. To book your tickets please visit our website

Mairi Hedderwick has also designed some special Christmas cards for The Breastfeeding Network’s 20th anniversary, featuring breastfeeding images from Katie Morag. All proceeds go to The Breastfeeding Network. To buy them please visit our online shop.

22 Aug

Can a man breastfeed? Supporting breastfeeding LGBTQ families

Dr BJ Epstein is Senior Lecturer in Literature at University of East Anglia and a Counsellor on our National Breastfeeding Helpline. In this guest blog post she talks about her experience breastfeeding in a two-Mum family.

Hand on topIf you’re a two-mum family, can you both breastfeed? Does your daughter get confused about whose breasts to latch on to? Is your wife jealous of your breastfeeding relationship?”

These are just some of questions that I’ve frequently been asked in the 34 months of my daughter’s life. Despite the obvious point that they’re rather personal subjects to discuss with people I often don’t know very well, the topic of breastfeeding and LGBTQ families is an extremely important one.

World Breastfeeding Week has recently passed, but the week is intended to raise awareness of issues surrounding the encouragement and support of breastfeeding all weeks of the year. Strangely, though, few people talk about supporting LGBTQ individuals/families with regard to breastfeeding.

You might think this is a very niche subject, but in fact more and more LGBTQ people are having children. Although figures vary, there are estimates that 1-10% of the population is LGBTQ, and that nearly 10% of LGBTQ people have children. That’s not an insignificant number. Considering how much thought and effort (and expense!) has gone into getting those children, LGBTQ families are often equally thoughtful about how to feed their babies. We need to know where to turn when we need help with breastfeeding, and we need to know we will be treated fairly and equally.

While many of the concerns regarding breastfeeding are the same for all families – what positions work? What if there’s pain? How much should the baby be feeding? How do you know if the baby is healthy? – There are some issues that are specifically relevant to LGBTQ people.

For example, can both mothers in a two-mother family breastfeed? What would be required to induce lactation? And how would that affect supply? And what if the baby was conceived through IVF? Does that affect breastfeeding? What if the breastfeeding mother wants to try to get pregnant again through IVF while continuing to breastfeed? And, also, if you’re talking to a two-mum family, should you call them both mothers or is only the one who gave birth the mother? (Here’s a hint: use whatever terms the parents want to use! And don’t judge!)

What about a situation where a trans man has given birth? Is he a “mother” or a “father”, a “she”, a “he”, a “they”, or something else altogether? (Again: employ whatever terms people use to refer to themselves!) Will a man be able to feed if he has had chest surgery? If he’s taking hormones, can they influence his milk supply? Should you even call it “breastfeeding” or might the man you’re talking to prefer “chestfeeding” or “nursing”?

In some LGBTQ families, donor milk might be used. Where can they find it? Is it safe? How do they use a supplementer system?

This is all quite practical so far. Then there are the more psychological or theoretical points. Is feeding a baby likely to induce or increase dysphoria in a trans man? Will one mother breastfeeding cause sadness in the other mother if she was unable to conceive or breastfeed herself? How will the men in a two-dad family feel about not being physically able to provide breastmilk for their child? Do LGBTQ families feel represented in literature about breastfeeding? Is someone’s queerness recognised and acknowledged by health professionals? Are they getting equal treatment from midwives, health visitors, doctors, and others?

These are just some of the things that LGBTQ individuals/families and those who want to support them on their feeding journeys need to consider. And yet there is little written about or for this group of people, and few breastfeeding support workers get education about it.

This needs to change. As all the events and publications that stemmed from World Breastfeeding Week pointed out, all families deserve knowledge and support when it comes to breastfeeding their children. We need to do better when it comes to LGBTQ families in particular.

Note: I’ll be speaking about this in more detail at the Breastfeeding Network Conference in October.’