Support is the theme for National Breastfeeding Celebration Week in England this year. Mothers are sharing their photos and stories of key support from their own “breastfeeding best friend” on social media with the hashtag #bffriend17
Who was YOUR “breastfeeding best friend”? #BFfriend17?
Ruth’s experience is typical: “[Day 6 after the birth, 4am] Me – sobbing: I don’t think this latch is right. It hurts. No, it really hurts. It’s not supposed to hurt. I’m sure it’s not supposed to hurt. But he’s hungry. I have to feed him. I need help. I’m tired, and I’ve got no idea what I’m doing. Who can I get help from?
First time breastfeeding mums the country over will recognise this. The pain of a poor latch, a hungry baby, knowing you need help and not knowing where to get it. At 4 AM, in a state of nearly delirious sleep deprivation. I hung on until the morning, when my dad brought my ex-midwife grandma to help me. She showed me how to relieve my engorgement and soften my nipples so that my baby had something to latch on to. Though it wasn’t totally plain sailing from there. The several days of poor latching had given me a badly cracked nipple, and then I got mastitis. But it healed, and I went on to breastfeed for 2 years. If I hadn’t had my grandma’s support at that moment, I would have stopped breastfeeding.”
So how exactly do we – in England – support breastfeeding mums? There is support available. They can access support from midwives, health visitors, lactation consultants, breastfeeding counsellors and peer supporters. This might be through the NHS, or via third sector organisations such as the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, the Breastfeeding Network, La Leche League and NCT. (Indicator 6 in the WBTi report, Part 1 and Part 2) There have, however, been significant cuts to many of these services, particularly peer support and drop-ins (part 2, page 30) and there was already a huge postcode lottery in the services available. This is compounded by the fact that there is no national information and communication strategy in England (Indicator 7). There is no centralised database of breastfeeding drop in support (the NHS Choices “find local support” (http://www.nhs.uk/service-search/Breastfeeding-support-services/LocationSearch/360) service uses information held by Netmums) So while there is support available, it can be difficult to find and difficult to access, and in many areas there is just not enough. And it’s certainly very difficult at 4 AM in the middle of a feeding crisis.
How do we solve this?
The WBTi report recommends (Indicator 6 and 7):
- Commissioners to ensure there is a range of integrated postnatal services that include both health professional and voluntary-sector breastfeeding support, meet local needs and provide clear access to specialist support.
- Government to implement existing NICE guidelines on antenatal and postnatal breastfeeding information and support.
- Government to make Baby Friendly accreditation in all maternity and community settings mandatory.
- Commissioners to maintain the full range of health-visiting services, and maintain health visiting as a universal service.
- Funding for public health to be protected.
- PHE to explore options to enable families to access information about local services.
- Governments to improve data collection to aid evaluation of services.
- Government needs to create a national communications strategy to:
- provide accurate information in publications and online sources, liaising more with relevant organisations;
- include WBW/National Breastfeeding Celebration Week;
- launch a public information campaign aimed at wider society (family, community, workplaces).
- DH to update the NHS Choices website to provide accurate information and details of breastfeeding support organisations.
A joined up service which meets the individual needs of each mother is essential to properly support mothers to breastfeed. Different mothers need different levels of support and their needs vary during their breastfeeding journeys. On some occasions an understanding friend is enough, sometimes a peer supporter and on others a highly skilled lactation specialist is needed. When we fail to meet these needs, we fail families. It is time for this to stop. It is time to properly support women in their choice to breastfeed their babies.
Who was YOUR #bffriend17?
Post your own selfie with YOUR #bffriend17 on Twitter, Instagram, or facebook!
A #BFfriend can change your life!
Dr Ruth Stirton is a Lecturer in Healthcare Law at the University of Sussex. She works on healthcare regulation, She is an admin of the My breastfeeding Story facebook group and is currently breastfeeding her second child.