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.