If you have a disability you may be concerned that this will affect how you choose to feed your baby. In most cases, with the right help and support, breastfeeding with a disability is not only possible but can offer distinct advantages for both the mother and baby.
A person is considered to have a disability if they report a long-standing illness, disability or impairment which causes substantial difficulty with day-to-day activities. This is the core definition of disability in the Equality Act 2010.
Everyone’s condition is unique but mothers with disabilities have told us that these are the most common problems:
- Positioning and attachment issues – due to fatigue, physical difficulties, overwhelming sensory issues and use of medical equipment (e.g. wheelchairs, stoma bags) the most common positions may be impractical and unhelpful. There are many more positions out there, you can even invent your own to find the best for you and your baby.
- Knowing how medication affects breastmilk – doctors and other healthcare professionals may not always have the knowledge to inform you. Always speak to your healthcare professional first but if you have other questions the The Drugs in Breastmilk information service offers up to date information on various drugs and their safety in breastfeeding mothers.
Other problems that come up are more specific to the long term condition or disability: hormone problems interfering with milk supply, digestive problems causing mother to have difficulty maintaining enough calorie intake to nourish themselves and their child, connective tissue disorders affecting joints or skin to name a few. Most of these can be helped with some creative thinking and up to date relevant knowledge. Knowing how to access help is essential to your support.
Where to look for help
- Midwife/consultant – you may need to ask specific questions about the difficulties you are facing
- BfN Drugs in breastmilk Facebook page
- Support groups for your condition (face to face or on social media) – ask if anyone in them has breastfeed and can share tips with you
- Local BfN support groups or local BfN Facebook pages
- National Breastfeeding Helpline
Quotes from breastfeeding mothers with a disability:
I knew I would really struggle with fastening bottles so kept on breastfeeding. I also wanted to avoid having to go up and down stairs at night.’
That it’s so handy and convenient don’t have to get out of bed don’t have to move boobs are always there and less to carry in bag. I think breastfeeding is one of the most accessible tools mums have!!’
Don’t give up breastfeeding or think it’s not possible because of your disability – tell professionals they need to help you find a way to crack it! Besides, for many of us, bottle feeding is even more difficult with holding/position of baby and washing bottles’
Many autistic women worry about sensory sensitivities and breastfeeding. But these vary from person to person. After the initial week or so when my nipples were very tender sensitivity was not a problem. On the positive side, being autistic, breastfeeding was good because the baby could be fed immediately, reducing the amount of crying. There was also no anxiety about preparing formula correctly.’
For some health conditions breastfeeding can be a protective factor in the child’s future health. Breastfeeding for me staved off the postnatal crohns flare, unfortunately it did appear once my baby weaned but of course I preferred it then than in the postnatal phase!’
If you are a mother with disabilities and you want to share your experience of breastfeeding please get in touch or join our Facebook page to chat to other mums.