31 Jan

BfN in the news: Shereen Fisher appears on BBC Woman’s Hour

Shereen Fisher, our CEO, featured in a panel discussion on BBC Woman’s Hour this week, on infant feeding experiences and how they made women feel. Shereen was joined by GP Dr Ellie Cannon and maternity matron Gill Diskin. The discussion covered all aspects of infant feeding, and addressed some of the challenges faced by new mums, as well as the health care professionals and organisations who aim to support them. Here’s what Shereen had to say about the experience.

I was thrilled to be invited to be part of the panel for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour this week, representing BfN. The opportunity was unique and the feature would be part of a 3 day-long focus on infant feeding – no flash in the pan for women’s stories about breastfeeding this time, but 3-plus hours of national radio air time devoted to getting the triumphs and heartache across – and for me – the injustice of women who don’t get the support they so deserve.

Invitation accepted then the worry began, as the facts of the show and angle the producers were aiming for were slow to emerge, along with details of the other panel members. I liken the experience of preparation to that of ‘getting a genie into a bottle’ – I am not a doctor or Public Health specialist, so a fair amount of reading and revising ensued (taking me back to my Law degree finals, when I promised myself that I’d never put myself through it again), as did heartfelt conversations with some sound, strong and sensible minds – you know who you are.

The challenge was, when the cork was taken off the bottle, to make sure that at least five clear messages were unleashed and not just a mist of vapour … The preparation, guidance from others and commitment I have held to this issue for over six years came good in the end and I was calm and relaxed in the studio (broom cupboard!), waiting to hear Jenni Murray say my name and invite me to speak.

Predictably the slant has been somewhat focused on the problems and the negatives of breastfeeding, but the presence that BfN was afforded has given me hope that all voices are valid and with a concerted effort we will be able to improve support for all women to pursue their choices and reach their own individual goals. That, I am certain, will be the secret to happy mums and babies.

To hear the full podcast featuring Shereen Fisher, Chief Executive, visit:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m00027ml

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.

04 Oct

Mothering the mother – a vital part of increasing breastfeeding rates 

Amy BrownDr Amy Brown is Associate Professor in Child Public Health at Swansea University. She is also the author of Breastfeeding Uncovered, a book which aims to highlight normal breastfeeding, challenge barriers and call on society to support breastfeeding. She will be the key note speaker at our conference on Saturday, and has written this guest blog for us ahead of her speech.

 

“Mothering the mother is a phrase often heard during pregnancy and birth. Look after the mother, care for her, support her emotional needs … and she will feel more empowered to grow, birth and care for her baby. A phrase (and actions)  that makes so much sense and is seen in many cultures across the world.

But might this form of love and care also be a key part of increasing our breastfeeding rates too? Of course, education, guidance and support directly about breastfeeding are vital parts of ensuring new mothers are knowledgeable and equipped to breastfeed. But if we really want to stand a chance of making this work, we must look outside of breastfeeding too.

Having a baby is hard, especially the first time. It is life changing and can be so overwhelming. Suddenly you have a brand new person to care for who is reliant on you for all their needs. And they communicate this well – after all, if they didn’t they wouldn’t survive. We aren’t baby giraffes who can get up and walk shortly after birth; we are entirely reliant on our caregivers for warmth, protection and food. Our babies need us, and we are hardwired to need to respond to them.

But as normal and natural as it is for babies to want to be kept close, this can understandably often feel exhausting and all consuming for new mothers. Many have gone from having freedom (and lots of sleep) one minute to having a baby who wants to feed often, chat at night and certainly doesn’t want to be put down. It can feel like all they do is hold, soothe and feed on repeat. Many weren’t prepared for it and start to worry that something is wrong. Might feeding him again create bad habits? Am I spoiling him? Is he manipulating me? What is this rod for my back people keep talking about?

But babies aren’t broken. They can’t manipulate. And it’s impossible to spoil them. In fact responding to, caring for and simply loving a baby is one of the best things you can do to ensure your baby grows into a happy, confident and loving adult. But society doesn’t recognize how valued just sitting and feeding your baby should be. Get your life back it shouts! Get back to work! The gym! At least get out of the house… and what about your poor partner? You must keep them happy too! And whilst I mention it … have you seen the dust? Your home isn’t looking like that celebrity new baby spread is it … oh and those nails… how on earth haven’t you managed to fit in a manicure? Priorities…

New mothers don’t need to get their lives back. That old life has gone and a whole new world has begun. But what they do need is support. In many cultures mothers are cared for and looked after for at least 6 weeks after the birth. Their meals are cooked, the housework is done and they are nurtured and supported. It isn’t a coincidence that rates of breastfeeding are low and levels of postnatal depression high.  Meanwhile when I recently googled ‘six weeks rest after the birth’ I got back a series of articles on avoiding heavy exercise.

In Western culture mothers often don’t have that support after the birth. Many live hundreds of miles away from home. Families are smaller and dispersed and many grandmothers will be working. Mothers are now often left to care for their babies alone, which we are simply not designed to do. No wonder the frequent needs of a baby feel overwhelming, especially for breastfeeding mums who might feel they do nothing but feed, day and night. And that’s before the pressure to get back in shape and regain your social life comes into play.

Unfortunately industry has jumped on this vulnerability and recognized a gap in the market for isolated, exhausted mothers looking for a solution (and a good nights sleep).  Despite the fact that research shows that breastfeeding mothers often get more sleep overall, the subtle and not so subtle messages coming out of formula promotion are that it will help your baby sleep (nope) or that someone else can feed the baby (missing the fact that they rarely want to do this at 3am). But these messages are pervasive and you can see why many an exhausted mother considers a bottle at that 3am feed. Unfortunately many make this move, it doesn’t affect sleep and they can feel even worse.

But it’s wider than just messages to move to formula. Baby care books promise to get your baby into a sleep and feeding routine and countless devices are arriving on the market promising hands free feeding or to rock your baby to sleep for you. These products are not the answer. Following a strict routine for feeding is linked to stopping breastfeeding, often due to problems with milk supply, as it interferes with everything we know about the importance of responsive feeding for building a good milk supply.  It’s unsurprising that routines often don’t work and sadly leave many mothers feeling even worse than when they began, even tipping them into postnatal depression.

So what is the solution? Simple. We need to care for our new mothers better. Mother them. Love them. Invest in giving them the time and support they need after the birth and throughout those early months and years. Think wider than breastfeeding and ensure that new mothers are as rested, supported and yes, cherished, as much as possible.

Work with partners and grandmothers where possible to explain why new mothers need to be mothered and what that might look like. And no, it doesn’t look like a bottle, even though that might seem like the perfect solution when your partner or daughter is exhausted and desperate for a break. Do some housework. Cook her a meal. Sit with her. If she’s happy to let you, take the baby for a walk between feeds, perhaps in a sling – but always check first. Separating her from her baby might make her feel anxious.

To really make this work though government must step up and ensure that mothers, babies and families are truly invested in. After all, they are our future and ensuring the best possible start in life reaps rewards for all of us. Mothers (and partners) need and deserve extended well-paid maternity and paternity leave and flexible working on return. Promote the importance of men taking time off and being there for their partner. No one should need to go back to work for financial reasons when they are still nourishing and caring for a baby.

Where family cannot be there, invest in creating networks and support groups for new mothers. Enhance access to doulas and invest in high quality support from professionals throughout pregnancy and after the birth, from professionals who have the time to sit and support. Caring for mothers should be seen as a public health responsibility and not something that simply happens if they are lucky.

Having a baby will always be life changing and exhausting but it needn’t be so overwhelming to the point where breastfeeding feels incompatible. With the right support and investment we can nurture a generation of new families and show them just what a valuable role they play. And with it, create an environment and support network that really supports new mothers to breastfeed. Mother the mother and she has the time, energy and peace of mind to get breastfeeding off to the best possible start.