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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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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12 Oct

Helen Ball: Sleep, Baby & You: development of a support intervention for UK families

Helen Ball has been researching the sleep of infants and their parents for 25 years. She conducts research in hospitals, the community, and her lab, and she contributes to national and international policy and practice guidelines on infant care. She is a Board Member of ISPID (the International Society for the Study and Prevention of Infant Deaths), Chair of the Scientific Committee for the Lullaby Trust, and Assessment Board member for Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative. In 2018 Durham University received the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Further and Higher Education for Helen’s research and outreach work.

In her talk at this year’s BfN Conference, Helen will provide an overview of her latest project to develop and trial a support intervention for parents who may be struggling with infant-related sleep disruption or post-partum fatigue. Here is a brief abstract of the project to whet your appetite!

Disrupted parental sleep, presenting as post-partum fatigue and perceived as problematic infant sleep, is related to increased symptoms of depression and anxiety among new mothers and fathers. Previous research indicates that UK parents would value an approach that facilitates meeting their infants’ needs while supporting their own sleep-related well-being throughout their infant’s first year.

Six initial stakeholder meetings were held with 15 practitioners and 6 parents with an interest in supporting parent-infant sleep needs, to explore existing service provision and identify gaps. The Possums Sleep Program, developed and delivered in Brisbane, Australia in a GP clinic setting, was chosen as an appropriate approach.

Working collaboratively with a stakeholder group, we translated the Possums Sleep Program into an intervention that could be universally delivered in the UK via NHS antenatal and postnatal practitioners. Parent and practitioner views of the initial materials were obtained via feedback questionnaires and the tool was revised. The intervention was then field-tested by 164 practitioners who delivered it to at least 535 new parents and babies over 5 UK locations, to capture anonymous parent and practitioner views of the intervention concept, the materials, and their experiences with both.

The intervention helps parents recalibrate their expectations of infant sleep development, encourages responsive parenting and experimentation to meet their infant’s needs, offers parents strategies for supporting the development of their babies’ biological sleep regulators and promote their own well-being, and teaches parents to manage negative thinking and anxiety that can impede sleep using the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The ‘Sleep, Baby & You’ discussion tool, a 14 page illustrated booklet for parents, was field-tested and evaluated by practitioners and parents who offered enthusiastic feedback.

Practitioners reported the ‘Sleep, Baby & You’ materials were easy for them to explain and for parents to understand, and were a good fit with the responsive parenting approaches they employed in other areas of their work. Parents who received the intervention postnatally understood the material and found the suggestions easy to follow. All parents who provided feedback had implemented one or more of the suggested changes, with the majority of changes (70%) being sustained for at least two weeks. Practitioners recommended development of digital and antenatal versions and offered feedback on circumstances that might challenge effective uptake of the intervention.

‘Sleep, Baby & You’ is a promising tool for promoting parental attitude and behaviour-change, that aims to adjust parental expectations and reduce negative thinking around infant sleep, promote responsive infant care in the face of infant-related sleep disruption and fatigue, and support parental well-being during the first year of parenthood. Initial field-testing provided insights useful for further development and subsequent testing via a randomised trial. Support exists for incorporating ‘Sleep, Baby & You’ into an anticipatory, universal intervention to support parents who may experience post-partum fatigue and infant sleep disruption.

 

Ready to hear more? Get your ticket for the conference here:
https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/conference/

30 Sep

Dr Lisa J Orchard: The Impact of Social Media on Breastfeeding

Dr Lisa J. Orchard is a Senior Lecturer at The University of Wolverhampton. Lisa specialises in cyberpsychology and specifically the psychology behind social media use. Here she discusses the subject of her talk for our conference in October – the impact of social media on breastfeeding.

A recent trend on Tik Tok sees the reaction of breastfeeding infants and toddlers when shown the sight of their mother’s breast. Their eyes light up in glee, as they crawl or toddle over for a snuggle and feed. An adorable sight; but what are the implications of the clip being shared on social media? Perhaps the video will attract a series of likes, shares and comments. Will this make the mother feel supported and empowered? Will she receive any negative comments, which could be detrimental to her confidence? What happens when a teenage girl stumbles upon the video? Perhaps she’s never encountered breastfeeding before. Will this be a positive introduction to seeing how a baby is fed?

The hashtag “normalisebreastfeeding” has been used over the last decade across social media to counteract some of the negativities surrounding breastfeeding. This cyberactivism demonstrates that there was always a hope that social media could be used in a positive manner to benefit breastfeeding promotion and support. This makes sense – social media is our ‘go to’ when finding new information or looking for someone to talk to, which is exactly what new parents need. The “new normal” of COVID-19 has meant an even stronger reliance on technology than ever before. However, to make the most out of social media, we need to take stock of content in order to understand its effect. We also need to consider who is using social media, as this will determine what content is seen.

Let’s start with the breastfeeding mother, who may actively search for breastfeeding support groups and information pages. How does she decide what group to look at? What kind of information does she see? What does she find useful? How accurate is the information? Now let’s consider other users, who may only encounter breastfeeding incidentally, through the sharing of a newspaper article or the viewing of a breastfeeding social media influencer. How often do they encounter breastfeeding content? Do negative comments impact on their opinion of breastfeeding? Do they learn about the benefits of breastfeeding from infographics and memes shared by friends?

Dr Wendy Nicholls and I have embarked on a research project to try and answer some of these questions. In our first study we conducted a review of research already looking at social media and breastfeeding to see what has already been found. The research so far suggests that breastfeeding families enjoy social media and find it useful for information and support. However, social media support does not always result in improved breastfeeding rates. Within our research we consider why this may be and suggest that it could be due to the content being seen. From looking across the studies so far, we can make suggestions about ways to improve this content. For instance, it is important for breastfeeding mothers to feel that information is credible and trustworthy. Furthermore, having relatable role models is important. People want to see other people like them breastfeeding.

Our second study is looking at one specific type of content – the breastfeeding selfie, aka the brelfie! We have been interviewing breastfeeding mothers who share brelfies to better understand what mothers think about brelfies and why they feel they are important to share. By finding this information we can hopefully understand the impact of this content and think about how we can use them more effectively.

Social media undoubtedly poses risks for breastfeeding, and not all content will be positive. However, if we understand the types of content available and how they may impact perceptions of breastfeeding, we can work on improving positive content, and minimising the risk of negative content.

 

We look forward to hearing more at our virtual conference on 24th October. Got your ticket? Click here:
https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/conference/

03 Jul

Guest Post: Ruth Dennison, Black Mothers and Breastfeeding

Ruth Dennison will be giving a presentation at our conference in October, entitled “Supporting Black women who breastfeed”. In this guest blog, she explains why it’s so important to support women in the black community to breastfeed, and how their needs may be different to those from other ethnicities or cultures.

Everyday a mother gives birth. Everyday a mother would attempt to breastfeed her newborn.

Everyday a mother successfully breastfeeds her baby and everyday a mother struggles to breastfeed her baby.

Why is this important, because in my 12 years of supporting mothers with breastfeeding, the rates of mothers reaching out for support in the Black community is very low, why is this?

Do you know breastfeeding support is more likely to be effective if it is proactive, delivered face to face and provided on an ongoing basis.

Why do Black mothers feel that they are just supposed to get it right on their own or supplement with artificial milk, do you know that within the Black community most expectant mothers have already been told or have told themselves that breastfeeding is not always possible and that they may need to top up their baby.  So what do they do, they buy formula milk and bottles just in case they have breastfeeding difficulties.  Black mothers, do you know this is not the best solution and definitely not your only solution.  Learning about breastfeeding antenatally is the best approach to help you get breastfeeding off to the best start.  Yes, there are many books, videos, courses and workshops to help you get off to the best start and this is needed more than ever as the Black community’s health is being affected by this.

Think…..If formula milk is just as good as breast milk, there would be no need for me to write this blog, no need for breastfeeding advocates, UNICEF and WHO trying to get the world to breastfeed their babies with something which is biologically made for their babies, the most natural food for your baby.  You know, when I have spoken to some Black mothers about breastfeeding, they have many reasons why to stop breastfeeding but not many reason why they want to continue breastfeeding up to and beyond 6 months as recommended.  Many Black mothers offer their babies solid food from around 3-4 months (Read when experts say babies are ready for solid food: here), why is this, is it because of family and culture influences or is it because you don’t see other women who look like you breastfeeding much more than 6 weeks.  Do you feel like you will be negatively judged? Is it the lack of support, social or media pressure?  Did you want or need extra support but wasn’t sure where to go? What is your reason why?

Have you ever asked your parents what they remember about breastfeeding. There are so many different stories and 2 of the popular reasons is that they either suffered in pain and swear never to put themselves through it again or that they believe that they never had enough milk.  Just my note to you, most of the time if you feel pain and have sore nipples/breast while breastfeeding, it is very likely that your baby wasn’t latched on correctly which can cause pain and with your baby not being latched on correctly your milk supply can drop, if you mix feed your baby this can also cause your milk supply to drop.  Over 90% of women can exclusively breastfeed their babies successfully with good support, encouragement and reassurance.  Breastfeeding is a skill that mother and baby are learning together and each day won’t always be the same but one thing is that you shouldn’t have sore nipples and if you do, you should consider getting support to help you breastfeed your baby comfortable.

How much do you know about breastfeeding? It would be good to know, because when I have spoken to families about breastfeeding they are amazed with the knowledge I share with them.

These links below can give you an idea of the breastfeeding rates in Africa and the caribbean which also have details on how many babies lives can be saved with improved breastfeeding rates.
Caribbean fails to fully meet recommend standards for breastfeeding.
The Wellbeing Foundation Africa is urging all mothers to breastfeed infants exclusively until they are at least 6 months old.

To hear more from Ruth, book tickets to our conference here: http://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/conference/

This post has been reproduced from Ruth’s blog, and was originally published here:
https://www.121doula.co.uk/breastfeeding/black-mothers-and-breastfeeding/

26 Jun

Guest post: Lisa Creagh’s thoughts on Holding Time – overcoming the cultural stigma of breastfeeding.

Holding Time” is an exhibition of breastfeeding photographs by Lisa Creagh, which “offers a creative reinterpretation of our concept of Time and how this influences our experience of Motherhood generally and breastfeeding in particular.” It aims to challenge the cultural stigma attached to breastfeeding, and how motherhood can make women feel that normal rules of time and space do not apply. In this post from her blog, Lisa talks about her experience of exhibiting her project, which raised some interesting issues relating to breastfeeding and motherhood.

Lisa will be talking more about her project at our conference in October – more information and tickets here: https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/conference/

Over the past few weeks I have been at the gallery every day. Sometimes I just sat on the beanbags and enjoyed the quiet. Other days I had others to join me: Lucila came almost every day. Many mothers came with their children. But also quite a few fathers. And others who had never had children; young women interested in the subject with their boyfriends, mothers whose babies had grown, mothers who had not breastfed, mothers who were still breastfeeding their four year old, mothers with newborns still struggling with the adjustment to motherhood.

In every case we sat or stood and held the conversation open: this is not an exhibition about how to breastfeed, or why you should breastfeed, or condemning those who do not.

I had some criticisms. For example, why no suffering women? When the cultural landscape is so empty, with so little work on this subject, what is there becomes a beacon and needs to fulfill every demand: to promote breastfeeding, to speak for those who could not breastfeed, to address the social inequalities, to represent every class. Although I had gone to some lengths to ensure the portraits were representative of a broad population of the UK, I recognised the impossibility of fulfilling such demand.

For example, it was very difficult and time consuming to recruit successful breastfeeders for the project. Those in great pain, in the early days of breastfeeding were off limits to me. I promised to represent their experience through the interviews.

I am certainly lining up interviews with women who have struggled, as I did, to breastfeed. They are closest to my heart. It is the struggle that started this. The struggle that both Lucila and I had in the first instance, to manage to feed (see Mother stories) and then, later on the struggle to understand the place of breastfeeding, both within motherhood and within society.

We hear from so many women that their struggle felt lonely, they felt abandoned. The question over why one woman would continue alone, when another went straight out to buy formula is a complex one. Some women were pressured to do so. Others were pressured to continue trying.

There is anger on both sides.

Some felt they had amazing support from the hospital, the health workers, the midwives. Others complained of poor advice: GPs failing to understand the basics, midwives advising unnecessary processes, being constantly asked if they were ‘still’ breastfeeding. Being left alone for hours after delivering their child with no advice or help, being unable to fathom an avalanche of conflicting information from different sources.

The lack of a single authoritative active voice seemed a constant. Those who struggled, either paid for a Lactation Consultant or gave in. There was nobody who had overcome their struggle alone. Everyone who had problems and eventually found their way through them had access to a trained source of help via a LC at a drop in, or by paying a LC.

The social pressures of breastfeeding and motherhood were equally expressed across the days. In particular, pressure from mother in laws, their own mother, or close family members to leave a baby to cry, to cover up more when feeding or to stop feeding before the mother or child was ready.

Pressure to stop feeding also seemed to come from GPs. Who had little awareness of the benefits of ‘full term’ breastfeeding.

Superstition around this area and sleep was rife. Women talked of their fears about babies developing excessive dependency as a result of being picked up, sleeping in the same room or being breastfed beyond six months. Women were overwhelmed with unwanted and unnecessary pointers from well meaning family, friends and strangers. Regardless of their choices they felt judged, accused and tried on an hourly basis – on the bus, at home, at the library, everywhere except for baby centred places such as play groups and get-togethers.

The prevalence of advice seemed in exact inverse proportion to the amount of accuracy, based on current research. Authors like Gina Ford came up over and over as a source of extreme anxiety and frustration. Fathers talked of their confusion at the minute by minute instructions; the bewildering threats and promises of a bad or good baby depending on their ability to follow these instructions.

At the Breastfeeding in Public workshop, Lucila and I were interested to discover that the social pressure of the immediate family and friends was far greater than the anxiety about breastfeeding in public. Most women spoke of struggling more with overcoming the taboo of breastfeeding in front of in in-laws, parents and siblings. Once this had been mastered, the act of breastfeeding in public was merely seen as a step into the unknown. Nobody had a negative story or experience about a stranger, only about family and friends.

It may be that this is peculiar to Brighton, (an overwhelmingly accepting and liberal place) but the idea of breastfeeding as taboo rang clear. Women’s struggle was largely with their kith and kin. Their experience of breastfeeding felt as though it was in opposition to social norms that they had always, otherwise obeyed. They experienced conflict around this: struggling to reconcile their certainty of the benefits of breastfeeding with the determination of others to maintain the status quo.

Education of the older generation: specifically those aged 55-75 seemed relevant. It was noted that many older women in their late seventies and eighties were extremely supportive and vocally so. We guessed these were the last of the generation who breastfed before the wholesale introduction of formula in the 1960s. For those who had children later, and who experienced the full impact of the formula take over of maternity wards in the 60s there was a sense of affront: to insist on breastfeeding, even when it was a struggle was an accusation that they had not tried hard enough, or had made the wrong choices.

Women came to the exhibition and expressed their gratitude for being shown and honoured with such beautiful pictures. They stood and looked, they sat and watched the film, then went downstairs to watch the videos. Many returned at least once. Some didn’t have time to see everything but took a card and promised to go to the website, to stay in touch, to tell their friends. The exhibition was shared widely on Facebook, by email and WhatsApp. Most women had heard about it from more than one place. Many said they had been sent details from a friend who thought they would find it interesting.

Many professionals also came. Zoe and Claire from the NHS support team in Brighton came, the Post Natal ward manager of the local hospital, a party from the NHS support team in Hampshire came along with photographer Paul Carter who has done a wonderful project with them called , ‘We do it in Public’. Many midwives came. One commented that the abstract concepts behind the work were too complex for ordinary women. Another, from Spain invited me to bring the work to their newly created birthing centre.

A GP from the GP Infant Feeding Network came to watch the videos twice. Another doctor, one of the mothers photographed, told us of discovering the inaccuracies in doctors exam questions regarding breastfeeding (how long does the who recommend breastfeeding? Answer: 1 year – the correct answer is at least two years) and we despaired at the levels of medical ignorance and absence of proper training for GPs on all aspects – not just breastfeeding but infant feeding generally and other issues such as sleep issues and weaning.

The weeks flew by quickly and were intense from start to finish. It was the first time to test out a safe space for conversation in this way. The gallery noted that the audience numbers grew during the exhibition and that the demographic was broader than usual. I was particularly struck by the draw of the work across society and professions. I revised my assumption that this was a project made for women. I realised that motherhood is a universal theme and the broad reaching ideas concerning Time and Motherhood make this work accessible to everyone.

For tickets to our conference, where Lisa will be speaking more about her work, click here: https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/conference/

04 Oct

Guest Blog by Smita Hanciles – The Power of Peer Support

Smita Hanciles works for Central & North West London NHS Foundation Trust and leads the Camden Baby Feeding Service. Here’s a taster of her presentation at our conference this Saturday (6th October), on the power of peer support. If you’ve been unable to get a ticket, follow #BfNConf18 on social media to catch our updates throughout the day.

There is evidence that establishing breastfeeding can be protective of maternal mental health and aids with bonding.  When establishing breastfeeding is challenging or even unsuccessful, particularly when a mother really wants to breastfeed, the mother can be left vulnerable and at increased risk of post-natal depression. At points of such vulnerability, does having access to a trained breastfeeding peer supporter in addition to her own network of relationships provide a source of emotional co-regulation and co-learning?  Does this help increase resilience and possibly decrease the risk of anxiety and depression and any negative impact on bonding?   These are the questions we have been asking in Camden as we introduced a group of new volunteer breastfeeding peer supporters into the Baby Feeding service.

We often think of support for breastfeeding and support for perinatal mental health separately and services generally focus on one or the other.  There are peer support projects for mothers who need help with feeding their baby and there are now separate peer support projects for mothers experiencing mild to moderate postnatal depression and anxiety. However, this way of delivering care doesn’t factor in that one impacts on the other and can’t easily be addressed separately.  What would happen if we supported new mothers in a much more holistic way?  Or maybe we already do this as peer supporters but just don’t describe it as such.

Having reflected on what we actually spend our time doing in the Baby Feeding drop-ins in Camden and on the stories of mothers we support, we recently decided that instead of describing ourselves as solely providing peer support for women experiencing difficulties with feeding or establishing breastfeeding, we would emphasize that we also provide listening support to those who had intended to exclusively breastfeed but were experiencing challenges or were not able to for various reasons.  We added the Baby Feeding service to the Camden Perinatal Mental Health services register under services for the ‘mild /moderate’ end of mental health concerns. We hoped this would help with the recognition of our role in providing emotional as well as practical feeding support and as a place from which referrals to more specialist help could be made if necessary.

I recently saw a poster with the words ‘I sat with my anger long enough, until she told me her real name was grief’. Mothers struggling to breastfeed can feel angry with services that failed to provide the right support or even at themselves or their baby. However, the anger could be borne from a sense of grief over the loss of the breastfeeding relationship they had wanted or looked forward to.  They are unlikely to seek help from other mental health services in this situation but still need to be listened to and for their feelings of loss to be acknowledged as a normal response and justified.  They don’t want to be told their feelings are unreasonable because they can always just give a bottle and as long as the baby is fed, it’s all ok.  They also need support to accept and embrace a different feeding relationship from the one they had anticipated whether it is mixed feeding or bottle feeding with EBM and /or formula.

We approached the Maternal Mental Health Alliance and began a discussion about how to join up different elements of support for new mothers and how we could best train and develop our volunteer peer supporters to work in a more holistic way. This resulted in a diverse and knowledgeable working group coming together including all the main voluntary sector organisation that train peer supporters to develop competencies for the Infant feeding workforce in relation to perinatal mental health.

We know from countless stories of mothers we have supported that breastfeeding peer support has the power to change a mother’s story and experience of care. Those of us who provide peer support have the privilege to hear a mother’s story, to become part of her story as we come alongside to help empower her to find the way forward that is right for her.  Can receiving peer support help a mum change the way she views her own story?  Providing peer support can often help reframe our own stories and see them differently.   If our story was one of painful experiences or even trauma, we can often realise the pain wasn’t in vain but has provided the backdrop to another mother feeling supported and empowered.

We are now looking for ways to collect evidence of the impact breastfeeding peer support has and how it contributes to perinatal mental health. We are still very much on a learning curve with this piece of work and I hope to share more during my presentation.

26 Sep

Guest Blog by Sally Etheridge: ‘I just really wanted to breastfeed’ – How stress affects how babies are fed, and how mums feel about it.

Sally Etheridge is an IBCLC who will be giving a presentation at our conference entitled “Breastfeeding Struggles”.  Here she gives some background to the subject and explores how stress can impact on feeding journeys. Come along to the conference on 6th October to hear more – information and tickets here.

As mother to mother breastfeeding supporters, we may often be especially aware of some of the personal challenges she is facing that are affecting how she feels about life, and becoming a mum, and how these might be affecting how breastfeeding is going – and her chances of achieving her goals around feeding her baby. While there has been a shift in understanding around maternal mental health issues, and better support offered to mothers with depression and anxiety, breastfeeding supporters may recognise that many mums face challenges that we can do little or nothing to change. We may recognise too that there are many mothers who never access our groups and who are much less likely to access breastfeeding support. Poorer communities, women from  different cultures and ethnicities, those for whom English is not their first language, women facing all manner of stressful situations that may be outside our experience. Yet as breastfeeding supporters, we want every mum and baby to be able to enjoy a loving relationship, and enjoy breastfeeding, especially those mothers who always expected to breastfeed.

Leicester has high numbers of mothers like this, and Mammas Community Breastfeeding Support Programme works hard to find innovative and low cost ways to support every mum whatever personal challenges she faces. My presentation focuses on a study I carried out, talking to a number of mums who faced high levels of stress, about how this impacted on how they fed their baby – and what helped most.

04 Sep

Guest Blog by Heather Trickey – What sorts of breastfeeding peer support interventions should we be developing?

Heather TrickeyHeather Trickey is a researcher in parenthood and public health at DECIPHer, Cardiff University.  Here she writes about the importance of not just implementing peer support systems for breastfeeding mothers, but, crucially, ensuring that those systems are effective and fit for purpose.  She’ll be talking in more detail on the subject at our conference on 6th October – buy your tickets here.

 

Breastfeeding peer support is considered an important intervention for supporting women with breastfeeding and is recommended by the World Health Organisation, by NICE, and by UNICEF UK. The evidence for breastfeeding peer support in a UK context is mixed, UK experimental studies have tended to show little or no impact on breastfeeding rates. As Dr Gill Thomson (UCLAN) and I have discussed, are lots of reasons why that might be, these include poor intervention design and implementation failure under experimental conditions (Thomson and Trickey, 2013; Trickey 2013).

Some lessons for peer support design

Earlier this year we published a realist review of breastfeeding peer support interventions (Trickey, Thomson, Grant et al, 2018). We identified some key lessons for design. For example, we found intervention goals need to have a good fit with the goals of mothers, that the intervention needs to be linked into existing health care systems, that help won’t reach many mothers unless it is proactive and for UK mothers it needs to come soon after the birth, that peers need to be confident and friendly for mothers to feel comfortable, that relationships need to need to be warm and affirming, that peers supporters themselves need to feel valued, and the intervention needs to enhance rather than displace existing care.

But we also need think about peer support in the bigger picture…

The UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, and there are big differences in rates at area level depending on level of deprivation. Our review found that we need to develop better ideas about how changes in attitudes and behaviours happen at the level of a whole community. We concluded,

“In the absence of overarching theories of change for infant feeding behaviour at community level, it is difficult for intervention planners to target breastfeeding peer support interventions to maximum benefit”.

So, what is the longer term objective for society? And what needs to happen, where, why and for whom and in what order to meet that goal? Should the focus be on encouraging getting more mothers to initiate breastfeeding, or on helping mothers to continue for as long as they want? Should interventions pay more attention to the needs of mothers using formula milk, whose babies are most at risk of infection? Should we be measuring breastfeeding rates, or should we be considering women’s experiences or changes in wider societal knowledge and attitudes as a way of measuring ‘success’?

What else do peer supporters do?

We need to get smarter at understanding how peer support interventions can contribute to delivering the kind of big community-level changes that we will need in the UK if we are to ensure that all women’s decisions are respected and supported and that women who decide to breastfeed have a better time and can meet their feeding goals. This means thinking about all the things that peer supporters do alongside helping individual mothers. We need to develop different sorts of theories and outcome measures which can underpin more holistic, community-focused interventions.

My talk for the BfN conference will draw on findings from my PhD research. This builds on the findings of our review, drawing on conversations with groups of parents, peer supporters, health professionals and policy makers to ‘think outside the box’ and consider all the different ways that peer support makes a difference. I conclude that we need to develop interventions that reflect the potential for peer supporters to enhance existing social networks, counteract inadequate existing services, advocate for services, and diffuse attitudes, knowledge and skills within their social networks.

References

Trickey, H. 2013. Peer support for breastfeeding continuation: an overview of researchPerspective – NCT’s journal on preparing parents for birth and early parenthood (21), pp. 15-20.

Thomson, G. and Trickey, H. 2013. What works for breastfeeding peer support – time to get realEuropean Medical Journal: Gynaecology and Obstetrics 2013(1), pp. 15-22.

Trickey, H.et al. 2018. A realist review of one‐to‐one breastfeeding peer support experiments conducted in developed country settingsMaternal and Child Nutrition 14(1), article number: e12559. (10.1111/mcn.12559)