09 Oct

Guest Blog: The story of a grieving mother – written 3 weeks postpartum.

Content warning: baby loss/stillbirth/lactation after baby loss. There is a photo at the end of this post.


You spend time preparing for them. Studying childbirth, hypnobirthing, breastfeeding, harvesting colostrum, bouncing on the birthing ball, helping encourage baby into the correct position, buying all the essentials you require and all the ones you desire. 

When I heard those words – there is no heartbeat – my world fell apart. I did not expect to find joy in the days that followed and yet I did. 

Upon hearing those words you enter a whole new world of information – there are new rules. 

Rules I did not study – trusting the health professionals around me to educate and guide me. Trying to digest what I could while adjusting to navigating this new landscape. 

I was 39 weeks pregnant, having regular false starts to my labour and desperate to meet my baby soon. Unable to walk far with pelvic girdle pain and all the usual aches and pains you get in the third trimester, I was ready. I was harvesting colostrum just in case – my first son had to go to special care at birth, missing the golden hour and having to agree to formula if required. While donor milk is now available, expressing helped give me a purpose. I was preparing for my baby in every way I knew how. 

While we knew that we had lost our baby – he still had to be born and the drug options were slightly different than what we covered in my antenatal class. While I was induced the amazing midwives did what they could to keep my labour as non medicalised as possible. I discussed my wishes to be mentally present – knowing how precious meeting my sleeping baby would be and my pain relief options were discussed in relation to my needs. 

I should add that the second you lose your baby – you get 5 star treatment. Everyone wants to help in any way they can but no one can bring your baby back so they give you all the comfort and support they can. Thanks to the charity Simba and the staff’s amazing fundraising the labour rooms are amazing and kitted out. 

Some women say they prepare more for birth than the baby. This was so true for me. It also feels cruel to birth a baby who you know you have lost – however this process was extremely cathartic for me and I was able to heal some wounds from my previous labour. 

I expressed the wish to save some milk to make into jewellery – as a memento, perhaps with a lock of his hair. A kind midwife suggested I could express drops of colostrum and put them onto R’s lip as a gesture. I was keen not to miss any opportunities and make all the memories I could.

Other midwives were concerned that expressing would encourage more milk to come in – how would this affect me and could it cause mastitis?

I also got offered some medication to help suppress my milk –  not being in a place to think straight, my friend advised me to check the side effects. We had learnt the BRAIN acronym in antenatal class and unable to decide I stuck to the N for ‘do nothing’. Breastfeeding my firstborn had been such a challenge and I was so convinced I would be better educated this time. Whether to suppress my milk with meds was the first real CHOICE I could realistically say no to. 

I was hesitant to take any drugs I didn’t have to. I had just spent 9 months nauseous so why would I take a drug that I didn’t have to with that side effect? 

My caregivers were concerned – a postpartum Mum grieving her baby with her milk coming in. Would that be too much? I knew my boobs though – oversupply was not a problem I had previously had. I also wasn’t afraid of milk. 

In the days that followed I expressed small amounts and had the support of a BfN mothers supporter and other midwives, who reminded me babies feed 12 times a day. Expressing once a day was not going to cause big problems. Expressing my milk felt good, I was and am so proud of my body. This was the right choice for me. 

Sadly I was unable to donate to the milk bank due to my medication but I know some other mothers who have successfully donated following baby loss and found great comfort in this. 

There are lots of firsts I have missed out on with my baby, but the precious memories will stay with me forever. Breastfeeding creates a bond between mother and child and by producing milk I was able to fulfil part of my mothering need.

Hannah Inman


This guest blog by Hannah Inman was posted as part of Baby Loss Awareness Week 2021.

If you or someone you know needs support with lactation following the loss of a baby (whether choosing to express milk or stop the supply), the following links may be helpful:
https://www.llli.org/commonly-asked-questions-about-lactation-after-loss/
https://kellymom.com/bf/concerns/mother/lactation-after-loss/

Alternatively you can call the National Breastfeeding Helpline, where our trained volunteers can offer support and information.

27 Sep

#BfNConf21 Guest Blog: Breastfeeding, Peer Support and Perinatal Mental Health

Smita Hanciles writes of the need for more cohesive support encompassing breastfeeding and perinatal mental health services. For more on this subject, come along to the BfN virtual conference on 2nd October, where Smita will be giving a presentation. Click here for full details and tickets.

Up to 20% of new and expectant mothers experience a perinatal mental health (PMH) problem. Depression and anxiety disorders are the most common, affecting 15% of women. However, these figures pre-date the pandemic during which women and their families faced extra pressures on their mental health, including anxiety about giving birth during lockdown.

In January 2016, the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health outlined plans that led to an expansion of specialist community PMH services to work with women experiencing moderate to severe illness.  In February 2019, the NHS Long term plan built on this commitment with the aim of ensuring that women in all parts of the UK have access to specialist community services and inpatient mother and baby units and extending service provision up to 24 months after birth.  It is hoped that by 2023/24, at least 66,000 women with moderate to severe PMH difficulties can access care and support in the community.  This will account for around 10% of women giving birth.  However, some women experiencing difficulties may not disclose symptoms, others may not reach the threshold for referral to these services and even those that are referred may need continued support when they are discharged. Peer Supporters could provide crucial support to these women especially when integrated within universal services.

All women will be feeding their babies regardless of their mental health status and will have feeding assessments carried out by maternity and health visiting services and some will access peer support services for help with breastfeeding challenges or social and emotional support. What role do these services play in supporting the mental health and emotional wellbeing of mothers?  A recent evaluation of the Camden Peer Support service showed that parents reported improvements in emotional wellbeing when receiving breastfeeding peer support even when this was only available via online groups and video calls. Peer support reduces social isolation which is a risk factor for mental ill-health and it also provides listening support and a safe space where women may disclose symptoms or talk through difficult birth experiences. 

If feeding difficulties are playing a part (as is often the case) in how a mother is feeling, then resolving these issues may also be helping to prevent escalation of symptoms of anxiety and depression in new parents.  But the often-complex interrelationship between infant feeding and perinatal mental health is frequently overlooked as services supporting each have developed quite separately from one another. There can be a perception in PMH services that breastfeeding will add unnecessary pressure and hinder recovery from perinatal ill-health, or staff may want to help protect breastfeeding when it is important for the mother to do so but lack the training and skills to enable this. Multi-disciplinary teams within PMH services now include 8 new roles including Perinatal Peer Support workers with lived experience of perinatal ill-health but there are no specialist or peer support roles that focus on Infant Feeding. 

Perinatal Peer Support workers are also being recruited as part of Maternal Mental Health Services that are being set up to integrate maternity, reproductive health and psychological therapy for women experiencing mental health difficulties directly arising from or relating to the maternity experience. Support will be provided for PTSD following birth trauma, baby loss or fear of childbirth and pilot schemes are underway to build the evidence base and identify replicable models. Could this be an opportunity to pilot the impact of including access to specialist infant feeding and breastfeeding peer support within these services? Increasing numbers of women are living with the painful emotions that come with trying very hard to breastfeed but failing, usually due to lack of timely and consistent support.  Any attempt to promote breastfeeding where so many have been failed by an inadequate system is like trying to cross a field littered with mines. Information will be perceived as judgement or pressure and any celebration of breastfeeding could re-trigger painful and traumatic memories. As there is a move towards implementing a more trauma-informed approach to care in the perinatal period, it is necessary to recognise that healthcare teams and peer support workers can potentially exacerbate their own birth and breastfeeding trauma histories when supporting families which can create unconscious bias. How do we build supportive structures for individuals providing care to those experiencing distress related to breastfeeding difficulties and perinatal mental ill-health?  How do we diffuse the emotional land mines to make way for meaningful discussions about the need for investment in Infant feeding support and training across all services that women access in the perinatal period?


If you’d like to see Smita’s presentation (and much more!) at the BfN Conference on 2nd October, please click here for information and tickets:
https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/2021agmconference/

#BfNConf21


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14 Sep

Dr Wendy Jones: Drugs in Breastmilk

One of the founding members of BfN, Dr Wendy Jones MBE has been supporting breastfeeding families for more than twenty years. As she heads towards her retirement, she reflects here on her time with BfN, and will give a presentation at our virtual conference next month.


Twenty-three years of providing information and support on the compatibility of medication in mother’s milk has brought about many changes, not least in expert sources available. This past year has brought many challenges for women, particularly when not able to see medical professionals face to face. So often mothers forgot to mention that they were breastfeeding, and doctors forgot to ask when prescribing over the phone.

The Drugs in Breastmilk information service was able to fill in those gaps on so many occasions. There was also a difference in the questions mentioning anxiety and depression (already one of the most common questions) increasing further. COVID and isolation affected us all. Not having the simple meetings where breastfeeding issues are normalised were missed opportunities for mutual support. I know because my daughter had a lockdown baby and as clinically vulnerable myself I wasn’t able to be there to support. FaceTime isn’t quite the same although still invaluable.

But over the past few months I have been joined by a new team of wonderful pharmacists (all registered breastfeeding Helpers) who can share the responsibility of the high volume of social media contacts. I’m looking forward to continuing to develop resources on my own website (www.breastfeeding-and-medication.co.uk) and Facebook page, whilst supporting the dream team on WhatsApp when needed. I’m also going to enjoy more time with my family – two and four legged.

No two days answering questions on the safety of drugs in breastmilk are the same, but everyone matters because behind it is a mum trying to keep her baby safe.


If you’d like to see Wendy’s presentation (and much more!) at the BfN Conference on 2nd October, please click here for information and tickets:
https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/2021agmconference/

#BfNConf21


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25 Aug

Black Lives Matter: how the Breastfeeding Network is working to tackle racial inequality

To coincide with Black Breastfeeding Week 2021, BfN CEO Shereen Fisher gives an update on our ongoing work to tackle racial inequality.

The Black Lives Matter movement of 2020 shone a spotlight on the world of racism within UK culture and institutions, leading to worldwide protests to end racial inequality. BLM combined with shocking information coming out on the deep inequalities that exist within our maternity systems for Black and Asian Women through the MBRRACE Report, have caused many charities involved in supporting parents to think about whether our services really are meeting the needs of all parents, babies and families.

This is true for BfN and this blog seeks to state our progress against our published statement that we shared in 2020 in response to BLM and in solidarity against racism.

Here is that statement again:


Black breastfeeding matters

We stand alongside all Black mothers and families, and are willing to do anything we can to ensure mothers and babies get real change for the better.

At the heart of BfN’s values is empowerment of women, and none of us can feel empowered if we are raising our children with threat from racism.

As a charity we have always believed in social justice for mothers and babies, but often we have felt limited in what to do, in part due to our own ignorance – which is our responsibility to correct.

We hear our fellow Black mothers and families and we are committed to doing more – using our core values of empowerment, empathy and actively listening.

We are committed to learning and educating ourselves.

We will share and amplify Black women’s voices.

We are here for you.


Since we made that statement, what have we done?

Nearly a year on from publishing the statement we have already published an update on our progress against an agreed action plan (the previous update can be accessed here). So, this update you are reading is our second and we will continue to keep you apprised of our progress.

For the second year we will provide monetary support to the organisers of Black Breastfeeding Week, we will encourage peer supporters to access training organised during this week and at other times that challenges thinking and supports their skills to support all families. We will continue to promote and raise awareness of the FIVEXMORE campaign in our communications and work.

Following a listening exercise with our own peer supporters we have heard first-hand about the experience of being a peer supporter in BfN and the additional challenges for peers from Black and Asian backgrounds to feel that their experience is represented. While generally being part of the BfN family is overwhelmingly positive we can see deficiencies in some of our group dynamics and limitations in our knowledge and skills reflected in our training.

So, this has led us to review our training materials with some help from an external organisation. We were pleased to see that only a small number of changes were needed so far but we acknowledge that the adjustments to our training content and inclusion of examples will have made a big impact for peer supporters who may have not seen themselves reflected in the experience and knowledge we were conveying. A commitment to ongoing review with the right representatives will help ensure our training and approach to support reflects diverse experience.

Our goal is to be a charity that is able and committed to supporting ALL families and for ALL families to feel comfortable and safe accessing our support, training, volunteering and working for us. This is at the heart of our work and we know that we can only truly achieve it by becoming a more representative and diverse charity.

Going forward, all BfN information will be developed and reviewed by a panel reflecting the skills and lived experience of parents. We hope to have the panel set up by the end of this year.

Guided by the insights from the volunteer working group, Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority peer supporters from BfN, and colleagues from BRAP, we have mapped the areas and actions that we want to work on. This has informed our plan to roll out training for key staff and peer supporters within our network, starting with our Tutor and Supervisor group. This programme of training is ongoing and includes training of BfN Directors this summer. The training for Directors seeks to help BfN’s trustees develop a greater understanding of what it means for BfN to be anti-discriminatory in its practice and discuss the role of leaders in developing and leading an organisation that is committed to culture change.

While progress had been made to engage younger mothers with lived experience of breastfeeding on the Board as Directors, there has been a clear lack of diverse ethnic representation on our Board of Directors for some time. In November 2020 we were pleased to welcome two new board members – Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi and Joy Hastings – and there is an ongoing commitment to ensure strong representation on the Board to support effective decision-making. Since then we have undertaken another round of recruitment and we are pleased to welcome a further 3 new Directors to the BfN Board soon, reflecting the skills and lived experience that BfN needs to govern.

In respect of our workforce and volunteers we know that BfN attracts a diverse range of candidates for jobs but we need to do more work to see if the people who get offered jobs are also representative and diverse. In July 2021 we launched our first employee survey which will provide an important benchmark to help inform planning and recruitment going forward.

We are committed to diversity and inclusion being on all agendas – wherever we meet we will actively discuss and invite feedback and learning on diversity and inclusion. This includes our Board, manager meetings and meetings of our project leads, tutors and supervisors.

Our communications team do and will continue to ensure that our values around diversity and inclusivity are publicly demonstrated.  This covers our newsletters, all social media channels, blogs, campaigns and printed materials.

Externally, we see the potential for the positive impact to come through our openness to partners and willingness to work with others. In late 2020 we joined a collaboration made up of several other organisations including Oxford Breastfeeding Support Group, ABM, GPIFN and others to build an open resource of images depicting different clinical issues of the lactating breast represented on different skin tones. The issues of a lack of diverse images have been highlighted by Nekisha Killings ( Nekisha Killings on Breast Assessment and Non-White Skin Tones | GOLD Learning 2020 Speaker – YouTube) we hope to be able to collectively support the progress and availability of ‘Spectrum’ in the near future.

What happens next?

We are committed to taking lasting and ongoing action and progressing our plans publicly. The Board approved action plan on inclusion and diversity reflects ongoing commitment and progress in this area.

We are grateful to the many peer supporters in BfN from Black, Asian and other Minority Ethnic backgrounds who took the time to talk with us about their lived experience of our support, training and volunteering. We welcome any other feedback, especially where you think we could do better. Please contact us ceo@breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk


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19 Aug

#BfNConf21 Guest Blog: 10 Things You Don’t Expect About Nursing Aversion

Zainab Yate explains the often complicated phenomenon of nursing aversion. To hear more, come along to BfN’s annual conference on Saturday 2nd October, where Zainab will be giving a talk entitled, “Help! Breastfeeding Makes Me Feel Sad, Mad and Bad.” Tickets for this virtual event are available here.


Many mothers and those who support them do not know that they can experience negative emotions associated with breastfeeding. In modern society breastfeeding is often used – problematically – to exemplify myths about motherhood and maternal love, and is bound up with ideas of what makes a ‘good mother’. In this context nursing aversion and agitation – intense, distressing feelings that are experienced by the mother during breastfeeding – can be both unexpected and hugely upsetting, particularly when women may have already overcome significant challenges in order to breastfeed. In a new book on the subject, When Breastfeeding Sucks, Zainab Yate examines what we know about this poorly understood aspect of infant feeding. Here she sets out the 10 most common misconceptions…

1. Breastfeeding mothers who experience aversion do not always want to stop breastfeeding!

Breastfeeding or Nursing Aversion (aversion) is when breastfeeding appears to trigger particular negative emotions like anger and agitation, skin-crawling sensations and an overwhelming urge to de-latch. You can also feel like a prisoner when breastfeeding or have thoughts of pushing your nursling off you and running away. Although it creates an emotional burden for mothers, and a strain on their breastfeeding relationship, mothers do not often want to ‘just stop breastfeeding’. What most of them desperately want is for aversion to go away.

2. Aversion can strike at any point in any breastfeeding mothers journey.

Whilst many in the infant feeding and mothering world knew that aversion can strike when a mother is breastfeeding while pregnant or when she is feeding an older nursling, it can actually happen at any point in a breastfeeding journey – with some mothers experiencing it at the newborn stage. Even though there is a strong argument that aversion is a natural biological trigger to start the weaning process in older nurslings, if you experience aversion and your nursling is under 12 months old, milk is their main source of nutrition so it is best to seek advice from an infant feeding specialist.

3. One reason for aversion could be oxytocin!

In some mothers, it is possible that they have a negative association to breastfeeding, whether it is due to being a survivor of previous sexual abuse, childhood trauma or simply because the start of their breastfeeding journey was very painful or challenging for many weeks, even months. I argue that these can cause a stress response due to the oxytocin, instead of loving, calming feeling it is well known for when breastfeeding. This is because oxytocin actually plays a role in stress regulation, and can cause fear and stress in negative experiences as it activates a part of the brain that intensifies the memory.

4. Some mothers self-harm in order to continue to breastfeed through aversion if they find breastfeeding painful.

This is known as the gate control method, a scientific theory that asserts the activation of nerves which do not transmit pain signals can stop or interfere with signals from pain fibres. So digging your nails into your thighs or biting down on your hand can inhibit the perception and therefore the sensation of pain in your nipple when breastfeeding. Many mothers in this predicament seem to instinctively do this. This would be a particularly severe level of aversion, as aversion can be experienced on a spectrum. If you feel like this, please seek advice from a health care professional or infant feeding specialist.

5. Aversion is different from Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER)

D-MER is a medical condition that can be diagnosed in a breastfeeding mother when her letdown causes her to feel negative emotions like despair, despondency and hopelessness. It lasts a few minutes and is dissimilar to aversion as the latter can last throughout a whole feed, whether it is 2 minutes or 2 hours – like the breastfeeding-to-sleep-marathon that can happen at night. Mothers can, however, experience both, and I believe if you struggle with D-MER you are more likely to experience aversion due to the added difficulty you experience when breastfeeding.

6. Misdiagnosis can occur with aversion.

Some mothers have sought help and advice from their doctors about their aversion when breastfeeding, but because some of the symptoms of negative emotions are similar to post-natal depression, and because they have just had a baby, health care professionals had wrongly assumed they must be post-natally depressed. If you are otherwise managing fine in day to day life and your emotions, and your difficulty with breastfeeding is just when your nursling is latched, or if anti-depressants the doctor prescribed you do not help your aversion, return back to your doctor and asked for proper screening, assessment and support.

7. Weaning and stopping breastfeeding can be just as hard as carrying on!

Breastfeeding cessation can be very difficult for mothers with aversion because of compounded guilt and shame that they experience in the aftermath of their negative emotions. Even if breastfeeding mothers who experience aversion do decide to wean, many can be surprised at how difficult it is to wean, both practically (if they have a particularly boob-attached nursling), and emotionally, as mothers have to process the feelings of guilt and shame around the negative emotions, and separate that with the guilt of stopping. Understanding that aversion is actually a reasonable response to an intolerable situation, what can alleviate or lessen aversion, and what the weaning process entails can help you get through it.

8. Mothers with aversion fear they are harming their nurslings

So many mothers I support are concerned about having aversion when breastfeeding – that it will harm their nurslings because of the nature of the emotions – but there is no evidence to show this happens. Whether it is feeling stressed or angry when breastfeeding, or even weaning earlier than you or your nursling want due to severe aversion, there is no evidence to indicate there is any long term harm caused to your nursling due to this. We all know the benefits of breastfeeding both mentally and physically as there is a lot of research about this, but we must understand these facts in the context of the research. These studies and statements are about when breastfeeding is going well. With severe aversion and breastfeeding challenges, it is questionable whether all the benefits of breastfeeding and bonding remain, and we know the research shows that when breastfeeding is hard or painful mothers are actually more at risk of post-natal depression.

9. Aversion can lessen or even go away for some mothers

For mothers who figure out their triggers, make lifestyle changes, improve their sleep hygiene, eating habits or use supplements like magnesium, aversion can abate and for some, it disappears as quickly as it reared its ugly head. There is always something you can try, and accessing our free online structured support course on www.breastfeedingaversion.com, or our peer-to-peer support group ‘Aversion Sucks’ on Facebook to get tips and tricks from other mothers struggling can instantly help you deal with aversion.

10. You don’t get aversion with every nursling.

Sometimes mothers worry that because they experienced aversion with their first nursling they will automatically get it again, but this isn’t always the case. As I outline my biopsychosocial theory of the phenomenon of aversion in my book ‘When Breastfeeding Sucks’, I cover why some physiological, psychological and societal causes can mean you experience aversion. I believe forewarned is forearmed, and the second or third time around as a breastfeeding mother you know more and are more empowered to protect yourself against things that can compromise your physical and mental health and therefore to protect you against aversion.

This blog was originally published on www.breastfeedingaversion.com, and is reproduced here with the permission of the author.


Zainab Yate BSc, MSc (Medical Ethics & Law, Imperial College London, UK) is a biomedical ethicist, clinical hypnotherapist, independent researcher and campaigner. Zainab is vice-chair and named qualitative lead of a London Research Ethics Committee, with the Health Research Authority (HRA) and has a background in public health and commissioning with the National Health Service (NHS). She published the first peer-reviewed study looking specifically at breastfeeding/nursing aversion and agitation in 2017 and has published the only book on the topic with specialist publishers Pinter & Martin, London. Zainab has been a breastfeeding peer supporter with the NHS for a number of years and is the owner of the only resource site for mothers and healthcare practitioners on aversion (www.breastfeedingaversion.com), she has helped tens of thousands of women and families when breastfeeding triggers negative emotions – both Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex and aversion, through her advocacy, free structured support course and peer-to-peer support groups.


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17 Aug

Breastfeeding through cancer treatment: with help from the Drugs in Breastmilk Information Service

Breastfeeding peer supporter Hannah was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2020, and was repeatedly told during treatment that she would have to stop or avoid breastfeeding. Thanks to the BfN’s Drugs in Breastmilk factsheets (as well as her own determination and self-advocacy), she was in fact able to continue safely feeding both of her children throughout. Here’s her story.

I’m Hannah. I trained as a breastfeeding peer supporter with Home Start in Sheffield in 2017 (though this centre has sadly now closed). I breastfeed both of my children (aged 4 and 1). I had come to hear about the Breastfeeding Network early on in my parenting journey – I was on various breastfeeding support forums on Facebook, and BfN’s drugs factsheets were shared a lot whenever someone had a question about breastfeeding and medicines.

In late 2020, I was diagnosed with bowel cancer after waiting 5 months on a waiting list due to the pandemic. I always thought I had bowel cancer but doctors had convinced me it was IBD. I walked into the room for my colonoscopy and said “I think it’s cancer.” The doctor replied, “That’s very unlikely at your age.” But sure enough, within a few minutes of starting the procedure, the atmosphere in the room changed. I was in agony, I knew something was wrong. I was wheeled into recovery and left on my own. I glanced at the report lying out on the table next to me, where under the findings heading, it said Colorectal cancer, 40mm. My heart sank. It’s a horrible feeling to be right all along. It was devastating as my youngest child was only 7 months old, and I feared I would have to wean her.

After that, things moved quickly. Scans confirmed the good news that it was operable and contained in the bowel, and I met with the surgeon the following week. I had to make a difficult decision to remove 80% of my colon to prevent future cancers. I used the BfN fact sheets to check that it was safe to feed after my CT scan, since staff in the CT unit had no idea what was ok for breastfeeding. At my surgeon’s appointment he mentioned I’d have to stop breastfeeding for 24 hours after surgery – thanks to the detailed factsheet on anaesthesia, I knew it was safe to feed after general anaesthetic. So I proudly stood up and told him he was wrong.

When my letter came through for admission, the anaesthetist had also written a note to say I should stop breastfeeding after surgery. I was a bit disappointed that yet another member of staff had asserted incorrect information. I printed off all the factsheets on anaesthesia and pain relief and brought them with me, so I was fully armed to defend myself when I was admitted for surgery a few weeks later. I was very lucky that I didn’t need them, as a different anaesthetist greeted me that morning, and told me it was perfectly safe to breastfeed after surgery. He discussed options for pain relief and had designed postoperative pain relief that lessened the need for morphine in my blood stream. Despite covid restrictions and worsening case numbers, the hospital kindly allowed my then 8 month old baby and husband to stay in the hospital with me. I pumped a sippy cup of milk before I went to theatre and returned 7 hours later free of cancer. Baby survived on snacks but hopped straight back on the boob as soon as I returned. I was discharged 4 days later but I was back in hospital 6 days later.

This is where the factsheets really came to my rescue. I ended up in back in hospital with extreme stomach pain and high fever. The new join in my bowel had leaked gas into my abdomen and it had caused a huge infection. I needed antibiotics. When the doctor arrived with the antibiotics, I asked if they were safe for breastfeeding, and thankfully he answered honestly “I don’t know”. I said “let’s check then”, pulled out my phone and went to the factsheet on antibiotics. We scrolled the sheet together and identified both drugs and verified within seconds they were both safe. Thus I was able to start treatment quickly.

I was discharged after a week without need for further surgery and whilst in hospital received the good news that I was stage 2 bowel cancer and chemo would not be beneficial. Unfortunately I was separated from my baby for a lot of that time, due to a covid case on the ward, where I wasn’t allowed visitors for the last 3 days. Baby survived on artificial milk and food as well as expressed milk when I was well enough to pump. She never took a bottle, but drank from sippy cups and open cups, only taking around 30ml at a time. My supply was very low when I got home, but with the help of my milk loving 4 year old and the baby, my supply returned to normal after a week or so. 

Things I learnt about breastfeeding and medical issues:

  • If a healthcare professional tells you that you can’t breastfeed due to a medicine or medical procedure, don’t just take it at face value.
  • Do your own research, and check facts from reputable sources such as the Breastfeeding Network.
  • Ask for details of exactly what medicines or substances are being used on your body, you have a right to know and to verify their safety for breastfeeding.
  • If something isn’t safe, ask what other options there are. There are always options in medicine, even if one is clearly the best one. You have a right to choose what happens to your body.
  • Doctors and healthcare professionals are experts in their field but they are not often trained in breastfeeding. Do listen to their advice on your treatment, they only want the best outcomes for you, and sometimes stopping breastfeeding for treatment is the right choice.

I am eternally grateful to the Breastfeeding Network and their factsheets. They have saved me from much worry and uncertainty around all of my treatment and surgery, enabling and empowering me to keep doing the thing that gives me the most joy in my life (breastfeeding) during an extremely traumatic time.


You can find the Drugs in Breastmilk Information Service factsheets here:
https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/drugs-factsheets/

If the medication or treatment you need isn’t listed, or you have questions, please contact the service directly. Email druginformation@breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk, or send a private message to the Drugs in Breastmilk Facebook page, and one of our team of volunteers will be in touch.


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02 Aug

Why does academic research have an important role in protecting breastfeeding?

Anthea Tennant-Eyles, Research Lead and Breastfeeding Peer Supporter

New research published here by Cardiff University and The Breastfeeding Network highlights inequity of access to breastfeeding support for families across England and Wales, a pattern of decreased funding since 2015 across England and loss of funded peer support training across Wales. One peer supporter describes changes to local support as ‘a skeleton with all the flesh removed’.

Click here to read the full report.

This research looks at data from local authorities, CCGs, health boards, infant feeding leads, peer supporters and service-users on breastfeeding support services. The need to value breastfeeding support (including peer support) at all levels has been a key finding.

World Breastfeeding Week 2021 has a fitting theme ‘Protect Breastfeeding: a shared responsibility’.

Good practice of this has been reported. One Infant Feeding Lead describes a maintained level of funding, with BFI accreditation, a staff team to support the infant lead role and a peer support service that is ‘fully integrated and offers comprehensive very high level support across all areas of maternity and health visiting services.’

High-level investments are needed across England and Wales to ensure that there is equity of access to breastfeeding support.

One peer supporter noted, “it was different in every local authority or health board … it was a post code lottery … until after you had your baby, you didn’t really realise how much that mattered in terms of what support you would get”.

So why is academic research on breastfeeding so important?
To inform policy makers on the importance of providing dedicated breastfeeding support services to local families and that services are protected for the well-being of future generations.


This time last year, we published a joint statement with a number of other organisations, expressing our concern at the fragility of infant feeding support in the UK, exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, not a lot of progress has been made towards remedying this situation in the past year, and this new report only serves to highlight the continuing need for change. We stand by our statement and are still calling on the UK government to work towards reducing health inequalities and improving provision of adequate breastfeeding support for all. You can read our original statement here:
https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/2020statement/


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02 Jul

What Breastfeeding Looks Like: Diverse, Inclusive, Supportive

Images courtesy of @decuirinducinglactationstory, Gosia, @adaptiveparentproject, Kimberly, @nina_tame, @hamofcydonia

Do you see people who look like you on our website or in our social media posts?

As a charity, we are constantly striving to be as inclusive and diverse as possible in our content, as part of our commitment to offer support to all families, regardless of their age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. But we are painfully aware of how homogenous images of breastfeeding can be. In the top 20 results of a Google image search for “breastfeeding”, there was just one image that did not appear to depict a White family; just one that showed a same-sex couple; none at all that appeared to show families with a disability (though of course we appreciate that characteristics such as disability, gender and sexuality are not always visible).

We want to change this. We want to support every family, and we know that we are much more likely to achieve this if we reflect as many of you as possible in the imagery we use. So as part of our ongoing work to make our charity more diverse, we’re appealing to all of our followers to help us build a bank of authentic and truly inclusive breastfeeding images for use in our communications.

We want to see what breastfeeding looks like for you, in your everyday life, so we can better reflect the wonderful diversity that we know exists among breastfeeding families.

We would welcome a variety of image styles – for example:

  • While it would be lovely to see your face, if you’d rather remain anonymous and be cropped out, that’s fine too.
  • There’s no need to show a bare breast or nipple if you don’t want to, in fact it can be great to show how discreet breastfeeding can be!
  • We’re not looking for clinical “textbook” images, in fact quite the opposite. So don’t worry about turning your photo into a demonstration, we’d much rather see the human, everyday side of breastfeeding.
  • Your photo does not need to be perfectly styled or staged – it would be great to see real life, so if there are toys strewn around or washing drying in the background, so be it.
  • It can be helpful to show that breastfeeding doesn’t always have to take place in a comfy chair – so photos of breastfeeding out and about or in interesting or unusual locations would also be great!

We would particularly welcome images of:

  • Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic or interracial families
  • Breastfeeding with a disability (whether this is a parent or child)
  • Parents in same-sex relationships
  • Trans parents
  • Younger parents
  • Breastfeeding older children, or tandem feeding
  • Breastfeeding alongside those people who have supported you to breastfeed – for example your partner, a grandparent, a friend, or a peer supporter.

How to contribute

If you’d like to contribute, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Complete the image consent form here.
  2. Email your photo as an attachment to wbfll@breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk. You’ll also receive an automated email to remind you, if it’s easier just to reply to that. Please do not send your images without completing the consent form first.
Win a BfN Coffee Cup!

You’ll also have the chance to enter our prize draw to win one of five lovely BfN coffee cups – full competition rules available below. If you’d like to enter, just tick the box when you fill in the consent form. The winner will be announced at the end of the appeal.

Once collected, we will share all of the images in an album on our Facebook page, and then they will be featured on an ongoing basis in our social media posts, on our website and in some printed communications. More details on how photos may be used can be found on the consent form linked above.

If you have any questions about the project, please email wbfll@breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk.

We’d also be grateful if you’d share this appeal with any other breastfeeding families you know. Thank you!

#WhatBreastfeedingLooksLike

Prize Draw Rules

  1. No purchase necessary. Any purchases made do not increase your chance of winning.
  2. Completing the consent form stating that you’d like to enter the draw, then emailing your photo, is the only way to enter. Likes or shares on social media posts relating to this competition are not a condition of entry.
  3. Competition opens on 02/07/2021 and closes at midnight on 31/08/2021. Entries received after this time will not be entered into the competition.
  4. The winner will be chosen at random after the closing date.
  5. This competition is being run exclusively by the Breastfeeding Network (BfN), and is not endorsed, sponsored or administered by Facebook, nor is Facebook associated with this competition.
  6. Five winners will each receive one BfN-branded reusable coffee cup. There is no alternative prize.
  7. The Breastfeeding Network (BfN) reserves the right to publish your image(s) as part of our online or social media promotion of this competition or others in future, or for other marketing purposes as stated on the image consent form.
  8. This competition is void where prohibited.
  9. The Breastfeeding Network (BfN) is committed to protecting any personal information that we collect.  Your personal information will be collected for the purpose of this competition only. You can read our Privacy Notice here. 
01 Jul

Inclusion & Diversity Survey – a message from Shereen

I want to share with you some new information and ask for for the support of our staff and volunteers in completing a new survey.

First, many of you will be aware of the work BfN is doing to be more inclusive and support diversity with the goal that we would want to be able to genuinely support anyone who needed the charity’s help.

While our focus has been on race prompted by the Black Lives Matter Movement, we have also given attention to disability and cultural/religious issues and our work in these areas will continue.  We are also very much aware of the need to give care, consideration and respect to parents who need our support but who do not identify with the traditional gender categories.

Most recently this has prompted early conversations around choice in use of pronouns and also enquiry into our understanding of how our training and support translates to people who chest feed.  What has been stand out from those conversations, is people’s willingness to want to be able to support anyone who needs our help but perhaps there being some hesitancy or worry as to how to do this without causing offence.

To help here the BfN team have compiled some information including links that you may find useful to help build your knowledge.  We will also be considering training for key members of the team and staff in BfN and of course we will develop this information. Here is the link: https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/genderdiversity/  

Second, as a peer support charity our aim is to be as representative of the mothers, parents and families we support across our board, workforce and volunteers.

However, at present we have no comprehensive way of knowing how diverse or inclusive we are as a charity in respect of our workforce and volunteers so we would like to undertake an annual survey of our staff and volunteers to understand this better.

By knowing this we can see where the gaps are and look to address them.

The survey is voluntary and confidential and will proactively seek consent as we understand the data we are asking is both sensitive and personal.

We urge as many staff and volunteers as possible to complete the survey by 31st July 2021 to help us understand your needs better and take action to make reasonable adjustments that address the visible and invisible barriers people face.

Only with this information can we be truly proactive to make sure people of different backgrounds, experiences and identities feel welcomed, respected and fully able to participate.

If you are a BfN volunteer or member of staff and have not received an email inviting you to complete the survey, please email centralsupport@breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk to receive a copy.

With thanks for your support for BfN.

Best Wishes,

Shereen
Chief Executive Officer
The Breastfeeding Network

30 Jun

Drugs in Breastmilk Information Service: Update

BfN’s plans to support Wendy Jones’s retirement came to fruition last weekend when our new team of trained volunteer pharmacists took up the baton of responding to enquiries to the BfN Drugs in Breastmilk Service Facebook page

Shereen Fisher, Chief Executive for the BfN said, ‘In 2019 we asked evaluators at Swansea University ​to set out the key recommendations for taking our Drugs in Breastmilk service forward – I am pleased to say the number one recommendation was to train more supporters and ensure longer term stability, and last Saturday showed the progress we are making.’

The new team of volunteer pharmacists, who are all trained BfN breastfeeding support helpers, have shared in our vision as we look to the future, supporting breastfeeding parents and healthcare professionals with queries about drugs in breastmilk. 

We are so fortunate to be able to bring a huge amount of expertise and energy to the service, with our new group of 11 pharmacists, many of whom already work in women’s health and have experience supporting breastfeeding families via social media, both voluntarily and professionally.  

As BfN continues to work with the new Safer Medicines in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding Consortium led by the Medicines in Health Regulatory Authority, this new team is supporting an enormously valuable and valued service to provide information, empathy and understanding to the thousands of enquirers who contact the service each year.

The volunteer team have got off to a great start with the guidance and support from supervisors and Wendy remains on hand throughout the summer while the service transitions. BfN are making plans for a proper celebration to mark Wendy’s unwavering commitment and contribution to supporting breastfeeding families over the last two decades. 

Wendy Jones says “I am delighted to leave the BfN Drugs in Breastmilk service in safe hands.  My dream over the past 26 years has been that all women are empowered to make evidence based decisions on medication whilst continuing to feed their babies and that all healthcare professionals feel fully informed when prescribing to them. My passion for this subject continues.  I feel very proud that another 11 pharmacists share my feelings. I’m looking forward to more time with my family, my animals and my garden, but yet another book might be needed before I put away my computer!’

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