Breastfeeding support : change the focus

It’s World Breastfeeding Week from August 1st to August 7th, and the Irish Parenting Bloggers have decided to do a Blog March to show support. 

Each of us will publish a post this week based on our own breastfeeding experiences, and linked to this year’s theme: Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers.

This has been rattling around in my head for the last five years – I meant to write a letter but I never did. This is in place of my unwritten letter:
When my first baby was born, I had trouble latching her on to breastfeed. I asked for help. I was in an extremely overcrowded ward, in which there were eleven beds – it was a six person ward so we were all sharing cubicles. It was surreal chaos.
The staff had no time to help – they were apologetic but explained that it was too busy.
For some reason I didn’t panic – my daughter was sleepy and wasn’t looking to feed. I just kept trying on and off during the night but I didn’t worry too much.
All night long, beds were wheeled in and out, staff were called by ringing bells, babies cried, mothers cried too. The nurses said it was busy because of the full-moon.
I didn’t panic. And I didn’t feed my baby. At 20 hours old, she still hadn’t fed at all.
At that point I was moved to another room in a quieter part of the hospital. It was like being moved from a bustling street O’Connell street during rush hour to a calm, quiet hotel room (not that there was room service or a deep pile carpet or a mini-bar but you know what I mean)
The staff there had much more time to help new mums breastfeed their babies: I was told that I should ring the bell every single time I wanted to feed my baby, and not to worry about how late at night it was or how often I needed help. The staff were incredible, and I left three days later with at least some degree of confidence that I could sustain this living creature myself (needless to say, the confidence disappeared temporarily when I got home and realized that it was all up to me now, but that’s another story)
I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t been moved– maybe the chaos would have died down and the moon would have waned, and someone would have come over to take me by the hand and say “Now, let’s see about getting you some help with breastfeeding” Maybe.
A good friend had a similar experience a year later, but with a different outcome: she too had difficulty latching her baby and called for help. The staff were busy, perhaps even more so than usual, and she was made to feel that she was causing an inconvenience by ringing the bell.
She had been in pre-labour and labour in the hospital, for three days, and had needed surgery after delivery.
She was vulnerable, upset, physically weak and lost. She was afraid that she was damaging her baby by not feeding him. But nobody helped her.
Unlike me, she didn’t get the hotel-like experience of a room move (it’s a lottery), and as each hour went by, she worried more and more about not feeding her baby – she started to give him bottles of formula in between attempts to feed.
Happily for her state of mind, her baby took the bottles. But sadly for her future breastfeeding relationship, her baby was less and less able to latch.
At home she continued to try to breastfeed, to try expressing, but again with no support, and not long her after, her baby was exclusively on bottles.
And this now lively, smart, wonderful four-year old is a credit to his mother – but she is still sad about her breastfeeding experience.
She’s not alone.
I’ve heard countless similar stories – some from real life friends, many from online discussions.
So many mothers who feel sadness and unfortunately also misplaced guilt about the breastfeeding relationship that they didn’t have the chance to experience.
So why is there not more support for new mothers in our maternity hospitals?
Why are there no lactation consultants available?
Oh wait, there are.
You just have to know about them and know to shout loudly.
Four years after my first breastfeeding attempt, I discovered that the NMH in Holles Street has three wonderful lactation consultants. This was when my third baby was born, and I was having difficulty with what was later diagnosed as tongue tie.
I was home from hospital and speaking to my public health nurse by phone, wondering why feeding was so painful, when that hadn’t been the case with my first two babies.
This smart, supportive PHN listened carefully and wondered aloud if it was tongue tie, and suggested that I call Holles Street to speak to a lactation consultant.
Until that moment, I didn’t know they were there.
I phoned, I went in, they are wonderful.
They helped diagnose my baby’s tongue tie and suggested to contact a private lactation consultant, Nicola O’Byrne, leading to a referral for a tongue tie division. Most importantly, in the meantime, they listened to me, observed me breastfeeding, helped me to find a position that eased the pain caused by tongue tie, and told me to come back anytime for more support.
I could really have done with this support when my first baby was born, that first morning in the eleven-bed chaos.
And my friend might have managed to breastfeed her baby if a lactation consultant had come to visit wards and speak to first  time mums trying to latch on. But neither of us knew that such a facility existed, we didn’t know to ask. And nobody in the hospital suggested it either.
Perhaps if HSE resources were channelled into hands-on breastfeeding support for new mothers instead of the endless posters we see in public health clinics and hospitals all over the country, it would be a better use of funds?
If an expectant mother has already decided not to breastfeed, I really don’t think she’s going to look at a poster in her local clinic and think “actually I’ve completely changed my mind, I’ll do it because that picture looks pretty”
So instead of trying to convert people who have already made up their minds, why not focus on helping those who really want to breastfeed their children? Surely it’s a mutually beneficial strategy – happier mothers who succeed to breastfeed their babies as they had hoped, and an overall increase in breastfeeding rates which benefits the health of the nation in the long-term and help to normalise breastfeeding.
It may take generations to bring our rates up to those of our Scandinavian neighbours but in the meantime, we could have fewer guilt-laden, lost mothers who just needed a little help to feed their babies.

For a list of links to online and face-to-face breastfeeding support options click here

This post is part of the Irish Parenting Bloggers BlogMarch to support Breastfeeding Week. For an introduction to the March, please visit Mama.ie and to read the full series of contributions, just click on the links below:

August 1st: Wholesome Ireland with World Breastfeeding WeekThe Happy Womb with The Power of Breasts
August 2nd: Awfully Chipper with The Accidental ExtenderOffice Mum with Breastfeeding Support: Change the Focus
August 3rd: Wonderful Wagon with Hippy Hippy MilkshakeIt Begins With a Verse with World Breastfeeding Week
August 4th: Glitter Mama Wishes with World Breastfeeding Week – Blog March – My Experiences Ouch My Fanny Hurts with Let’s Talk About Boobs Baby
August 5th: Debalicious with So you want to breastfeed in Ireland?Bumbles of Rice with Breastfeeding in the Middle GroundMind the Baby with What’s wrong with this picture?
August 6th: My Internal World with Breastfeeding in Ireland: Support on Paper but not in Practice Musings and Chatterings with Lumps, Bumps, and Grumps – Things I never knew about breastfeedingMama Courage with Hey you! Be a BFF to your BFF (Breast Feeding Friends)
August 7th: The Nest with World Breastfeeding WeekMama.ie with Breast BuddiesAt The Clothesline with Close to my heartMy Life as a Mum with Mummy I need your pookieLearner Mama with The Breastfeeding Trier

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10 thoughts on “Breastfeeding support : change the focus”

  1. I think you are so right, I am sure there has been a fortune wasted on useless things, when really it is on-the-ground help that is needed.. Badly. Unfortunately, your breastfeeding success depends on whether you are damn lucky or damn determined in this country.

    1. That’s just it, if you’re not lucky enough for your baby to take to bf like a duck to water (and some are) then it’s down to where you are and who is available to give support. Some mums know to plan in advance and will call an LC if needed but most first time mothers that I know are not ready for dealing with problems – I wasn’t.

  2. Great post. I feel so sorry for your friend, and so happy for you and your babies that you were lucky enough to win that room lottery – however that works!

    1. yes the room lottery is a very Irish thing! You pay for private and then just cross your fingers that you’ll get the room. I’m guessing it’s not quite like that in the States…

  3. Yep, lactation consultants is the way to go. If you don’t want to breastfeed, grand. But if you do, then you need to not fall into the boobytraps and get the help. It’s all well and good to know about la leche league, and LC’s and all that when you’ve a 4 month old, but you need them before and exactly when your baby is born. I knew about them, but I have 2 older sisters, so my support was in place.

    Maud if you’ve gone private rather than public you’re entitled to a private room. But there’s not always enough rooms so you can still end up in a ward. (I have private health ins but went public as you still have to pay out a good bit on top, and you’re not guaranteed that elusive room)

    1. yes, I discovered LCs on my third baby and La Leche League two weeks before the end of my final maternity leave. I’m not really sure how to get the word out there.

  4. You have hit the nail on the head. Start with the moms who want to do it as there are more than enough of them to keep us all busy. The posters mean absolutely nothing if the practical support isn’t there.

    1. I actually find it heartbreaking. There’s such a push in ante-natal classes and literature, but then once mothers have decided to give it a go, they’re left alone to figure it out. It’s very sad.

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