#WBW2020; #GreenFeeding; #BreastfeedingInLockdown

Breastmilk is amazing

Breastfeeding has been shown in many studies to be linked to better health in babies and mothers. As breastfeeding is the physiologically normal way for infants to be fed, it is more accurately stated that not breastfeeding is associated with poorer levels of health. This is not surprising as infant formula only provides the basic nutrition a baby needs (proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins) but breastmilk is an amazing fluid with over 300 different components, as shown here. It includes growth factors, hormones, enzymes and anti-microbial factors as well as nutrients, and varies in exact composition according to the needs of the baby. It is therefore unique for each mother at each moment in time.

Knowing how amazing human milk is can help a mother have determination to overcome breastfeeding difficulties but it can also feel like pressure. What she needs is access to accurate information and suggestions, offered in a caring way after listening to her particular situation. That means that everyone who has contact with new mothers needs to have sufficient knowledge and person-centred communication skills.

Rachel describes her experiences of giving birth and breastfeeding during lockdown.

Rachel’s story

“During my three years of trying to conceive and infertility treatment I often fantasied about the closeness of holding my baby and feeding them. When I was lucky enough for my IVF to work, I moved on from worrying about if I could have a baby to if I could breastfeed. My mum assured me it was easy for her but her emphasis on its importance felt like further pressure. Many of my friends had stressful experiences and got medical advice that they needed to supplement with formula. Towards the end of my pregnancy I got a phone call from the hospital to explain all the benefits of breastfeeding and recommended I harvest colostrum at 37 weeks. I tried this but couldn’t get even a drop which further made me doubt my ability to breastfeed.

My baby was born in May during the pandemic, so I wasn’t allowed a water birth and my husband was only allowed in during active labour. This meant when I was 3 cm dilated and having intense contractions he had to wait outside the hospital in the car. They refused to check my dilation again for five hours due to infection risk and left me alone. When around 4 hours later I felt the urge to push I convinced the midwife to stay and help. When they could see my baby’s head, I was allowed to telephone my husband and ask him to come. My husband was there for the last 10 minutes but it had been a lonely labour due to COVID-19 without most of the plans I had made that involved a birthing partner.

After the birth the level of support dramatically increased with my husband and midwives all keen to help. My baby was placed on my chest and knew instinctively how to feed and stayed on for hours, it was amazing. I continued to use the gas and air for this first feed as for me the breastfeeding gave me very strong period-like contractions. After this first feed, I no longer had the period-like contractions, but my nipple started to become sore. I decided to stay a night in the hospital for some extra breastfeeding and baby care support, as most face-to-face community support wasn’t available at that time. The midwives repeatedly showed me how to improve my breastfeeding latch throughout the night.

The first breastfeed

Five days after the birth I saw the doctor for routine checks. The doctor calculated my baby had lost 7% of her baby weight (which I believe is normal) but she still asked if I was feeding my baby enough. She asked if my breasts were soft and empty after feeding. At this point my milk hadn’t come in so I didn’t understand the doctor even when I asked her to explain more and had to say no they don’t empty. She also had a look at my nipples and said they were cracked so insisted I must use a nipple shield and wouldn’t discuss any other options. After the appointment I cried in the car park that I couldn’t feed her properly and was failing as a mother. On the way home we rushed to shop for nipple shields (the first shop I had been in since the start of lockdown). I couldn’t get the shields to work and my internet research in some cases strongly warned against their use. I didn’t know what to do so rang my mum and then the hospital. I spoke to a lovely midwife who reassured me and said I didn’t have to use nipple shields and that my nipples could heal with continued feeding.

Due to COVID-19 I had a triage phone call with the health visitor the following week, to assess if I needed a visit. She decided that I needed a visit to weigh my baby and gave me leaflets about local breastfeeding support as my nipples were still painful during feeding. There was no face-to-face support available, but I had a video call with the breastfeeding advice line and joined a virtual group. These calls have been great for giving me personalised support to improve my breastfeeding latch so that feeding is no longer painful, listen to my concerns and build my confidence. It is also very convenient as I don’t need to leave my home for it.

My baby is now almost 10 weeks old and breastfeeding is going well. I can feed her watching TV, half asleep in the dark or on the bench in the park without much effort and with no discomfort. I am also pleased not to need to warm up formula as that might be harder when cafes and other facilities are closed due to COVID-19. I love being close to my baby during breastfeeding and being able to provide what she needs.”

Thank you very much, Rachel, for sharing your story.

Patricia Wise

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