19 May

What does breastfeeding peer support mean to you?

We think our volunteer breastfeeding peer supporters are amazing! A true lifeline for breastfeeding mums and their families across the UK. And we know that many people across our network share our feelings. 

If you are a mother, family member, BfN volunteer or health professional, we’d love to hear about the impact that breastfeeding peer support volunteers have had in your world. 

In times gone by, mothers would look to their close female networks if they needed breastfeeding support. Due to the changes in modern society and attitudes towards breastfeeding, many women find themselves at a loss in their attempts to seek support within their communities. Breastfeeding peer supporters help to bridge this gap by listening, empathising and supporting mothers along their breastfeeding journey. 

On the 1st June we plan to mark what would have been Volunteers’ Week and National Breastfeeding Week by asking the question ‘What does breastfeed support mean to you?’.

We will share a compilation of this feedback on our website, with our breastfeeding peer supporters and across our social media channels. 

Do you have time to share a story, picture or video with us about what breastfeeding peer support means to you? We’d love to hear from you!

How to get involved

Here’s a few ways you can get involved: 

14 Apr

National Breastfeeding Helpline Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The National Breastfeeding Helpline is run in partnership between the BfN and the ABM. The initiative is funded by PHE and the Scottish Government. All calls are answered by trained volunteers, working in their own homes, using a virtual call centre. The helpline offers evidence based, non judgmental, friendly information, reassurance and support and is open every day of the year from 9.30am-9.30pm on 0300 100 0212. Support is available in Welsh and Polish on the same number.

www.facebook.com/nationalbreastfeedinghelpline

www.twitter.com/NBHelpline 

www.instagram.com/nationalbreastfeedinghelpline 

11 Apr

What BfN means to me.

By Kirstin Worsley – Scottish PfG Project Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

07 Apr

Coronavirus update from BfN’s CEO

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

BfN_CEO

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

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

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

Responding to the crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

How we are supporting our healthcare professionals

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

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

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

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

Best Wishes

Shereen

19 Feb

Help and Support on Tongue Tie

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

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

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

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

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

For more information on tongue tie:

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 Dec

Peace on Earth, goodwill to all relatives: surviving the holidays as a breastfeeding mum.

Victoria Davies, aka Mum In Make-Up, writes about how to get through the holidays even when your family’s views on breastfeeding don’t quite match up with your own.

The festive season. It means something different for everyone, but for new (and not so new) breastfeeding mums it can spell an entirely new level of stress. This year I’ll be celebrating my third Christmas as a breastfeeding mother. My little boy might not be a cluster-feeding newborn any more, but he’ll certainly be demanding boob fairly regularly nonetheless. It’s his way of reconnecting with me when things get a bit much, when he’s tired or just wants some uninterrupted time with me. If you’re new to this, unless you are spending the whole two weeks staying at home with just your little family, you’re likely to be wondering how whipping the girls out regularly is going to go down. After all, you’re going to be seeing various assorted extended family and friends and Jane-from-number-ten who always comes to the Boxing Day buffet. Here are a few things to consider before you decide to come down with a mysterious seasonal illness.

Get some boob buddies
Chances are if you’re staying somewhere for a few days there will be a few others there too. Who can you trust to have your back? If you have a partner, they should be the first person you drag onto your cheerleading team, but there are bound to be others who will get you a glass of water, plump the cushions for you and glare at anyone who dares to utter that time-honoured line “Are you still breastfeeding?” Give those people a quick message before you see them. Something like “Please help, I’m breastfeeding and Uncle Martin thinks my five-month-old should be eating steak” should do the trick. 

Dealing with nosy parkers
Chances are nobody will make a peep. After all, drawing attention to the fact your boobs are out just isn’t cricket, and most people will be polite. If, however, there are people there who haven’t seen you breastfeed yet and don’t observe the usual social boundaries, you might find yourself inundated with a barrage of questions and interest. If you feel so inclined you can discuss your choice to breastfeed, telling your audience all about current recommendations from the NHS and the World Health Organisation, and that things may have changed significantly since they had their own babies, in regard to when and how children are weaned from the breast. If someone is genuinely curious it can be nice to impart some of your gems of wisdom.

However, you don’t actually have to do any of this. It’s not your job to be Google, and if you don’t want to be drawn into a conversation about breastfeeding, especially if you’re dealing with truculent people who feel they have the right to question your choices, you absolutely don’t have to. Being asked repeatedly “But when are you going to stop?” can get incredibly wearing after a while, especially if “when we’re ready” isn’t quite cutting it with people who want some kind of detailed timeline.  After two years of breastfeeding, I’ve found the most helpful phrase to shut down anyone who is challenging me beyond my boundaries is “It’s working for us and we’re really happy.” It lets the person know that your choices are not up for debate. After all, this is your child. Don’t feel undermined or threatened for a second.

Do what you normally do
Does your partner usually give a bottle in the evening? Go ahead and stick to that. Perhaps Granny would like to do it; after all, some of the complaints tend to be about extended family members not getting enough cuddle time. Do you usually use a cover or scarf to feed? Keep going with that, especially if it gives you the confidence to feed whenever and wherever. Do you and your partner like to curl up together on the bed for a feed with your baby? (I ask because this is our favourite thing to do). Keep on keeping on, and enjoy that little ritual together.

Take a break
Particularly when babies are very young and going through a cluster-feeding stage, having to breastfeed almost constantly in front of everyone gathered at the Christmas celebrations can feel a bit much. Smiling at your in-laws through gritted teeth as one of them pipes up “Are you feeding her again?!” is probably not what you need right now. And here is where breastfeeding gives you the perfect excuse to take a break. Take your child off to the bedroom or to another quiet space, put your feet up and enjoy the peace and quiet. You don’t have to worry about anyone else right now; this is more important. It’s also a brilliant excuse to get away from your dad’s more strident views on politics, or to avoid eating yet another slice of Granny’s horrible cake. Breathe and enjoy the time with your baby. Barricade the door if you have to.

A breastful of milk
This is the time of year when, at its heart, we’re celebrating the birth of a baby. A baby who would have been fed from his mother’s breast. Hey, it’s even mentioned in the carols we sing every year! Every time someone questions your decision or makes you feel on edge, just take a few deep calming breaths and remember that you are part of something beautiful. So many women have done what you are doing, and have experienced that magical bond created by breastfeeding. At one time, the entire community would have helped a new mother and encouraged her. If you’re struggling, remember that you’re not alone, and you will always have help and support online or on the phone from organisations like The Breastfeeding Network. If it was good enough for Mary and Jesus, it’s good enough for you and your baby.

Merry Christmas, you brilliant woman. Well done.

29 Oct

Response to the Guardian article Wednesday 24th October – Breastfeeding rate declines in England as advice goes unheeded

Image result for shereen fisherOur CEO Shereen Fisher responds to the recent Guardian article on declining breastfeeding rates.

The appalling fact that England (one of the biggest economies in the world) lags behind in breastfeeding rates often makes headline news and it did again last week. However, the suggestion in the Guardian article is that this is because current strategies employed by public health are not working, and women are not listening to the advice they are given. The generic claim that all breastfeeding rates are declining is also a bit misleading.

It is true that our national rates are low compared with other countries and that our very unequal society means that in many areas of the country to breastfeed will make you feel like a social outcast. However, broadly speaking initiation rates are good in the UK with around 80% of women breastfeeding their babies at birth. This presents an enormous opportunity to work with the early desires of women and families to breastfeed – the Unicef Baby Friendly Initiative along with improved antenatal education has made an important contribution to progress in initiation. However, then the picture becomes more complicated. More than 3 in 5 women stop breastfeeding earlier than they want to and often the emotions around not being able to breastfeed can cast a long shadow of disappointment. Whatever one makes of breastfeeding and the state of it in the UK, it is unarguable that breastfeeding matters to women and families. It is also unarguable that women and families don’t get the support they need to sustain breastfeeding.

The uneven and variable nature of support was well-depicted in the recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme – ‘Breastfeeding Uncovered’. We know that breastfeeding in the north of England, (where in some areas fewer than 1 in 5 mothers sustain breastfeeding to 6-8 weeks) is considerably more difficult than in some London boroughs where more than 4 in 5 reach the same. It doesn’t take a genius to know that the missing ingredient that helps to explain the difference is ‘support’. The sad truth is that we know that the vast majority of reasons women give for stopping breastfeeding are issues that can easily be resolved with good quality support.  Support should be honest, unique, independent, and personalised. It needs to be well-funded and it should not operate in a vacuum. It should be evidence-based and integrated with a whole system approach that cares for a women in the pre and postnatal period. Where women choose not to breastfeed or are unable then their choice should be supported and respected as well so the health and wellbeing of all babies can be upheld.

The provision of support for new mothers and their families is grossly inadequate and varies widely across the UK.  Women are very aware of the benefits of breastfeeding through health promotion but receive very little support in making breastfeeding work for them. This leaves women feeling that they have failed, but actually they have been failed by the lack of support available to them.

It’s not that advice on breastfeeding is going unheeded by families, it is that there is not enough support built in at the right time and in an organised way for women and their families to feel they can act on this advice.

We don’t have to look too far to get ideas as to what it takes to improve the situation for women and breastfeeding. Scotland, through their Programme for Government fund, have taken the key next step to invest in breastfeeding at every level, this is despite years of low breastfeeding rates. They are moving to strategic action that is rooted in the best evidence to uphold the health and wellbeing of women and babies – other countries should follow this example.

References

The UK has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world:
81% breastfed at birth but falls to 17% exclusively breastfeeding at 3 months and 1% exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months
http://www.unicef.org.uk/BabyFriendly/About-Baby-Friendly/Breastfeeding-in-the-UK/UK-Breastfeeding-rates/

Health benefits of breastfeeding are well researched and evidenced – there are benefits for both mother and child:
http://www.unicef.org.uk/BabyFriendly/About-Baby-Friendly/Breastfeeding-in-the-UK/Health-benefits/
This includes the potential to reduce infant mortality from SIDS and Necrotising Enterocolitis, Infant mortality rates in the UK are currently around 4 deaths per 1,000 live births, with babies born to younger mothers being at increased risk at 5.5 deaths per 1,000 live births:
http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/vsob1/child-mortality-statistics–childhood–infant-and-perinatal/2012/stb-child-mortality-stats-2012.html  (accessed 17/06/2015)

The financial benefits of breastfeeding have been shown – on an individual level, infant formula is expensive for families to buy and on a national level, there are huge savings to be made in the NHS if more mothers were supported to breastfeed their babies for longer:
http://www.unicef.org.uk/BabyFriendly/Resources/Guidance-for-Health-Professionals/Writing-policies-and-guidelines/Preventing-disease-and-saving-resources/

More than 3 in 5 women stop breastfeeding earlier than they wanted to:
http://data.gov.uk/dataset/infant-feeding-survey-2010  The vast majority of reasons women gave for stopping breastfeeding are issues that can easily be resolved with good quality support.

Breastfeeding Uncovered – Dispatches
https://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/episode-guide

Scotland – Programme for Government – Breastfeeding
https://beta.gov.scot/publications/nation-ambition-governments-programme-scotland-2017-18/

04 May

Breastfeeding was my lifeline while struggling with PTSD

I could barely hold the funnel to my breast. My hands, swollen and numb grasped as hard as they could, my body weak, hardly had the strength I needed to do this. I lay there, on the hospital bed, the noise of the machines sending me into a trance like slumber. Slowly the small drops of precious milk appeared, glistening in the light that flooded my room, and I felt relief relax my body. I closed my eyes, this, this was my lifeline, this was what was keeping me alive.

My baby lay in neonatal, she felt like a million miles away, this was all I could do, I couldn’t walk, couldn’t hold her or care for her, but I could do this, I could give her my milk. So, while my arms ached, the pain making my fingers tremble, my ravaged and traumatised body fought to give me what I needed, I would do this for her, for me.

While on HDU and then when I was well enough to go to the postnatal wards, pumping for my daughter became my lifeline. It kept me alive, because deep down I truly believed I was dying, so I would stare at the clock and will myself to live just a few hours longer, so I could pump again and provide another feed for my baby. It became my mission, my goal to live till the next time I had to express, and it felt like the last gift that my failing body could give her. The staff tried to make me stop, telling me that with the massive blood loss and a haemoglobin of 4.1 it was pointless. They told me I would never make any milk, let alone enough to feed her just breastmilk, but I wasn’t giving up that easy. I cherished every drop that my body gave me, like it was a magical potion that would keep my baby safe. Even after I was found unconscious in my room and at the brink of death, all I could think about was I needed to live, just a little longer to express my milk, I had to do this because soon I would be gone, and this was all I could do, all I could give her of me.

Every syringe, I sent to the unit was full of love, I couldn’t be there, to tell her I loved her, but my milk was like a message in a bottle. So, I would beg for the pump and even fetch it myself. It was such a sight, me in my wheelchair trying to also wheel the pump down the ward, but I was determined nothing would stop me. Gradually as the days passed my supply increased. It felt like a victory. I would prove them all wrong, I would do this, just wait and see.

As soon as I was well enough I would wheel myself down to the neonatal unit, placing the small bottles containing my milk, in the pocket of my dressing gown next to my heart. It was like carrying the most precious jewels, bringing my baby her gift. As I watched the nurses fill up the syringe and feed it through her nasal gastric tube, my heart would beat so fast, fit to burst. I had done that, I had provided her with what she needed, no one else just me. I was giving her life, giving her what she should have had from me, had she still been inside me, had my stricken body not failed her six weeks too soon. I would not fail again. My body would come good this time and provide her what she needed. As I looked at her small and fragile in the incubator, I willed my body to hold out and to keep going.

Soon my supply was increasing, and the nurses were amazed as I kept bringing down bottles full of milk. As my baby grew stronger they asked if they could start giving bottles, so they could wean her off the NG tube, but I made it clear that I wanted to feed her from my breast. Again, I was told we would never achieve breastfeeding but that I could try her at the breast and then they would offer her a top up in a bottle. However, this wasn’t good enough for me, we would prove them wrong again, because I knew that she could get this breastfeeding lark, we just needed time.

When I held her to my breast I felt calm, and safe. The terror went away, and the fear eased.

So, after two weeks I was discharged from the ward and my mission now was to be at the unit 24/7. The staff agreed to leave in the NG tube while I was trying to establish breastfeeding so that they could top up feeds if needed. So, I basically moved in. Every moment I could, I placed my tiny baby to my breast. It was terrifying, I had no idea what I was doing, she still had wires everywhere and the machines would beep and go crazy, but slowly I found a way to hold her and she would open her tiny mouth and latch. It filled me with the most amazing feeling, to know that I was caring for my baby this way. When most of her care was out of my hands, this was something I could do.

After two nights in the chair next to her cot, the staff knew I was going nowhere and I was given the tiny room on the unit that was only big enough to contain a bed and a tiny sink, but I was so grateful. I was just about able to walk very small distances, so it meant I had a place to rest at night till I was called to her bedside. I was watched by the staff like a hawk, and she was weighed daily. Many times the staff and family suggested I be kind to myself and take it easy and add in some formula. They said she wouldn’t gain weight as fast on breastmilk and it would take longer for us to go home. But I was determined and so was my little baby. She worked so hard, and she would open her eyes and gaze at me like she was willing me on and telling me she could do this.

So, it began, my breastfeeding journey, my lifeline. When we both finally went home, 5 weeks after her birth, my baby was fully breastfeeding, to the amazement of the staff. Together we overcame a traumatic, premature birth that nearly cost us both our lives, massive blood loss that should have robbed me of my milk and transitioning to fully breastfeeding when no one said we would. Even when we got home it wasn’t easy and we battled oversupply, awful colic, mastitis and tongue tie. But together we made it; for 15 months I fed and nourished my baby and she thrived, she put on weight and despite me being told to expect her to be behind in developmental milestones, to everyone’s amazement she was instead ahead. In fact, my little girl, even though only tiny, was walking at nine months.

For me breastfeeding kept me alive. On the days I lay in hospital when I had no idea if I would make it, I lived to express for my baby. When I went home, when I was battling flashbacks and nightmares from the birth, when I was scared and worried about my baby, breastfeeding was my lifeline. When I held her to my breast I felt calm, and safe. The terror went away, and the fear eased. Close to me, she was mine, I could protect her, nothing could harm her or take her from me. My body that had failed her, was now keeping her alive once more, giving her everything she needed. It was also saving me, keeping me from losing myself to the terrors that sought to take over my mind. In the night, when I woke and heard her crying, I could run to her, take her in my arms and place her to my breast, unlike all those nights in hospital when I couldn’t be with her, couldn’t care for her.

While everyone tried to get me to stop they didn’t understand that it was a vital part of my healing from birth trauma and also that it was helping me while struggling with undiagnosed PTSD. It was so important to me, my vital connection to my baby but also helping me to cope with everything that we had been through. It was my journey that years later moved me to train with the BFN so that I could offer others the support that I didn’t receive. To help other Mums like me who wanted to breastfeed and so they too could experience the joy I had. Those early weeks were hard, and I know how much I would have valued having someone by my side to offer encouragement and hope.

I now support others who have had a traumatic birth. It’s so important that we understand how birth can impact on maternal mental health and breastfeeding. That we listen and support women in their choices giving them accurate information and support, but also that we understand the emotional side and how kindness, encouragement and just being with them can make such a difference.

For me breastfeeding was a beautiful gift. It is a gift that I cherish because it was a battle no one said we could win. But win we did, and I will forever be grateful for the fact that we achieved what was seemly impossible, given all the odds – a lifeline in the darkest of times.

Emma Sasaru

Emma is a mother to two beautiful daughters. Her passion is to improve support for women and their families that have experienced birth trauma, had a premature baby and the difficult journey of neonatal. She is also a volunteer breastfeeding supporter with BfN.

Twitter: @emmajanesas

Beyondbirthtrauma.com

Finding breastfeeding support

Getting help with breastfeeding, at the time you need it, is really important. We know the relationship between breastfeeding and mental health is a complex one. Whatever our decision is to feed our little one, and however our mental state is affected during this time, we should expect to feel supported and respected in our feeding decision, and with our mental wellbeing. We are here to offer all families independent, non judgemental support with breastfeeding for as long as they choose.

Please don’t be afraid to ask for help. BfN Registered Volunteers want to help you with breastfeeding. It is why they have done training and offer their time.
Call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212

You may not need to venture beyond your front door to get breastfeeding support. BfN Registered Breastfeeding Supporters are trained to give support and information by telephone.

Drugs in Breastmilk Information Service

For enquiries in relation to taking medication whilst breastfeeding contact our Drugs in Breastmilk team.

Find a Drop-In Group

It can be helpful to get face-to-face help with breastfeeding and to meet other breastfeeding mums. There may be a Breastfeeding Drop-In Group in your area that can help you do this (we list groups on our website where there is a BfN Registered Breastfeeding Volunteer attending). Also it can be really helpful to have someone who knows about breastfeeding to sit with you as you feed your baby. If the person helping you can be there from before you start  a breastfeed until your baby has finished feeding, this is most helpful. The drop-in group can help you with this or you can ask your midwife or health visitor if they are able to do this.

Your local Infant Feeding Co-ordinator, Community Midwife or Health Visitor may have details of local support. Their contact details  might be in the discharge pack you were given when you had your baby. If you live in England or Wales you can find contact details for your nearest maternity unit on the NHS Choices Website.

 

 

22 Nov

Westminster 20th anniversary celebration

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