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So I'm not usually one to rant with my professional hat on. I usually try to stay quite civil and cordial and then take my grumbles and scream into a pillow, or I take them to my safe space and spew out all the swear words there. I am not a fan of reading public rants from professional pages, but here I go writing my own right now! I've had a few days (more like a few years) of being confronted with what can only be described as parents receiving shocking breastfeeding support and then finding themselves in a pretty crap position, only to then feel that maybe this is the end of their breastfeeding journey, because 1) they don't know there's more skilled breastfeeding support than a midwife or health visitor 2) they can't see the value in accessing further support beyond what they've received from the local midwives and health visitors in their trust.

 

This is by no means the fault of the parent! This rant is not in any way directed at the parent. It's directed at a culture, at a system, that doesn't see the value in specialist breastfeeding support. A system that pays lip service to breastfeeding and talks about how they recognise all the"benefits" of breastfeeding and how they support parents who "choose" to breastfeed and then leave mothers and parents (in most areas in the UK) without any specialist breastfeeding professionals to actually get support from. And I'm not talking about the person that's been given a title as the "breastfeeding person" in the hospital without actually undertaking a high level of specialist training to be shelling out support in what is often a critical situation where a baby won't even latch to the breast, where a baby might be losing too much weight straight after birth. Yes, there are actually people out there that are breastfeeding specialist health professionals. 🙋 In some hospitals around the country there are International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) hiding away in the halls and parents don't even know they're there or that they can access their help.

 

None of us knows what we don't know. It's ludicrous. How can we know what we don't know? We can't. Most parents rock up to the start of their parenting journey thinking, "I'll give breastfeeding a go. If I have any issues, I'll ask the midwives." This way of thinking relies heavily on a profession that does not have the capability to offer skilled breastfeeding support (and I'm not talking about the midwives that happen to be IBCLCs, because the majority aren't). There is little to no funding to train IBCLCs within the NHS, and in most situations around the country, you have to make a case for the value of having an IBCLC, which many trusts don't see why they can't just offer someone a bit of training around breastfeeding, call them the breastfeeding person/infant feeding person and bob's your uncle, sorted. This train of thought in itself shows just how unbelievably ignorant we can be about the skill set of an IBCLC and what they can offer to a mother or breastfeeding parent.

I'm a mother of three children that I birthed. I've experience three very different births. For the second and third baby I did a lot of reading and researching about birth and what constitutes a birth risk and what I might want to do in certain risky situations in labour and birth. My mother gave birth. I have lots of aunts and friends that have given birth. Bear with me, I have a point... I have heard a lot of birth stories from supporting parents and I have some experience on that level. I've done a doula course and sat through training that involved quite a bit about birth and the mother and the baby. If you had some questions about birth, I'm confident that I could point you to some great links that could answer your questions and maybe give you some ideas that you hadn't considered. But if you're in labour and I'm there supporting you and shit just got real and something isn't feeling right and you're asking for some help getting your baby out. Who do you want coming to help you? Me? With my doula course (which isn't medical, btw) and my personal experience of pushing a baby out and my experience of supporting some people with the theory of birth? Or do you think you'd want a midwife who did ALL that training and did years of studying and shadowing other midwives? The midwife who has had to take an exam to get her qualification, who has to maintain her knowledge with continuing professional development, and who has extensive experience helping parents bring their babies into the world in tricky situations? Who do you want coming to help you? Please don't say me...because I know that I don't know enough to help you in that sticky situation. I 100% know this, so I'd step out of the way and I'd let that midwife do her thing. If breastfeeding isn't going to plan and shit is getting really real and you're sat there in pain, or your baby isn't even going to the breast, or you're having to top up for whatever reason, or things are just not working like you think they should. Who do you want helping you? The person that might have breastfed their baby or babies? The person that might have done the 18 hours of training required of a Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI) health professional, may have gone to some other training courses and put in some personal time to read a bit on breastfeeding? Is that who you want helping you when you are in that sticky situation? Or do you think you'd want an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) who did ALL that training, including at least 1000 breastfeeding specific clinical hours, a 90 hour lactation specific course, other various courses, and then sat a board exam to receive their qualification? The IBCLC who has extensive experience with tricky situations and who can look at the mother and baby dyad as a whole unit and try and work out the deeper reasons for why things aren't going to plan? Who would you want helping you? You wouldn't go to a dermatologist when you need to seek support from an oncologist, you wouldn't ask a gynaecologist for support if you really need to speak to a urologist. These are all specialists that have studied their area specifically and have a bank of knowledge so extensive in their area. So we shouldn't be sending parents to midwifes when breastfeeding isn't working. We should be sending them to LACTATION consultants, likewise lactation consultants shouldn't be supporting parents in birth, they should be supporting parents and babies with breastfeeding. So this is about the moment when a load of people start raging at me and telling me how wrong I am and that this is most definitely the place of the midwife to help with breastfeeding. By all means, help with breastfeeding, and if that mother says that everything is great and they thank you for the help and then move on successfully breastfeeding, then it's been a fabulously successful encounter and there's then no need to refer to an IBCLC. But if that mother is struggling, if that baby is struggling, then they need a referral, and I'm not apologising for saying it. If that particular hospital doesn't have an IBCLC, for whatever reason, then that dyad should be referred to outside support. THIS IS IN LINE WITH NICE GUIDELINES!!!! It grates on me like nobody's business when I hear, "We aren't allowed to refer parents out of the NHS." Yes. Yes you are. You actually have a duty to refer a parent out. When you don't, you are saying to that parent that you are the most knowledgeable on that topic, and that there is no value in their seeing someone else besides you. We have allowed ourselves to be duped by a system that undermines breastfeeding at every turn. You remember what I said about lip service? You know about our breastfeeding rates? We have gone on for far too long thinking that we can push parents along a system where they get little to no skilled support with feeding their baby, keeping our lips sealed about the fact that there are other people out there that might be able to offer them a bit more help, because it's a knock to our own self esteem that someone else might have the knowledge in an area that we've been claiming expertise on for so long. It's about time we make this about the parent and drop the egos. For as long as I've been doing this (and I now know it's been going on for so so much longer) shit has been getting very very real, yet still not enough people have been stepping out of the way.

 

 

Cover Image was taken from the Unicef BFI Call To Action Video.

 

#breastfeeding #midwife #HealthVisitor #BreastfeedingSupport #BabyFriendlyInitiative #BFI #HealthProfessionals #BreastfeedingStruggles #birth #KnowWhatYouDontKnow #UNICEF #LactationConsultant #SkilledSupport #BreastfeedingRates #BreastfeedingStatistics

It's very rewarding being on the front lines of breastfeeding support; to sit with another mother or parent and talk them through difficult times. To see them go from the early day wobbles to that confident parent they were unsure that they'd become. I love it and can't imagine not doing what I do. I feel so privileged to get to witness this private moment in people's lives. BUT, this blog isn't about me or the breastfeeding supporter that sits with the parent in that time of struggle. This blog is about the people that do all of the work and put in all of the effort, but get none of the reward and never have the opportunity to see all that they do to change lives.

 

As I write this I think of my husband. There was a time when we were those new parents and I didn't think I could manage the whole breastfeeding thing. We sat side by side on the edge of our bed, me crying that I couldn't do it anymore, and a 4 day old baby crying in my arms frantically trying to latch onto my bleeding nipples. I told him to go get formula, I couldn't breastfeed; I'd failed and I was done. He agreed. He would go get formula, but not now, tomorrow. We had a midwife coming in the morning and we would see what she said, and if I still wanted to then he'd go get formula. I agreed. It seemed reasonable and it was only one night I had to make it through. Now, this might sound mean and controlling, that I asked him for this one thing and he didn't do it, but he knew me. He knew I had it in me and he knew how badly I wanted this one thing, to feed our baby. He was present in that moment and saw the whole situation for what it was, a desperate call for help. He also knew that if I made it through another crappy night that I'd feel better the next day. This was my lowest point and it was the one night that I just had to get through, and I did. But not without his support, and I am forever grateful for this extra push, because it was the beginning of something in me. It still took me weeks to get to a point of not wanting to run and hide every time the baby cried for a feed, but it was never that bad again.

 

When I sit next to another mother, when I sit next to another parent, that is feeling at the end of the rope, I can empathise because I can understand what it feels like to desperately want that one thing that you feel like you'll never be able to achieve and to not be able to see past the unbelievably exhausting haze that is having a new baby. They eventually find their way through it and to witness it is reward enough for me. It motivates me to keep going. So I do.

 

However, not once has my husband had the opportunity to witness this. For more than five years now I've been picking up my phone at inconvenient times, ignoring him in the evenings to catch up on messages, walking out of my front door and leaving him with a house of chaos, so that I can help another family. I know that there is value in this, because I see the positive impact it has on that family, but my husband never sees that. He puts in all of the work to support families with breastfeeding, but he never gets any of the reward. I'm not sure he's ever seen the impact his support has had, so I'm dedicating an entire blog post to saying thank you to my husband and to all of the breastfeeding supporters out there who never see all that they do.

 

This man hasn't only been my biggest supporter, but he's been your biggest supporter, because I couldn't do anything I do without him. I wouldn't have reached my own breastfeeding goals without his support that night, and many more tough nights that followed. I also couldn't walk out of my house to walk into yours if he wasn't behind me picking up the slack.

 

I won't lie, there has been resentment at my walking out the door on days when everyone is stressed and tired and needing the mother in the house. There have been comments made about not helping my own family, and helping someone else's family instead. They're said in the heat of the moment and I know that if he saw the impact he was making he wouldn't entertain the anger and frustration. He is the man that sat next to me on the bed and he knew the importance of that feeding relationship; he knows the importance of your feeding relationship, but he's never been confronted with all that he does. He doesn't get the thank yous and grateful hugs, despite all that he does for other families. So, I'd like to take this opportunity to say thank you to him, and to all of the breastfeeding support workers out there who don't get the opportunity to see first hand all that they do. Your positive impact on the lives of others is very much appreciated!

 

 

#breastfeedingsupport #breastfeeding #breastfeedinghelpers #supportingthebreastfeedingmother #thankyou #grateful #gratefulness #familylife #parentssupportingparents #rewardingwork

 

 

Her nipples are bleeding, her 5 day old baby is hungry and she's crying because she has had to offer some bottles of expressed milk because she couldn't bare the pain of feeding. She cries and asks if this is the end. All she wanted was to breastfeed, but she can't and she's so upset she isn't breastfeeding like she'd planned to.

 

Woman looking lovingly at her breastfeeding newborn

This isn't the account of any one mother, but the account of so many mothers that I have sat with. They had a plan that they were going to breastfeed, but their plan looked a bit like what we've idealised breastfeeding to look like, instead of what breastfeeding really is. Her plan involved her sitting relaxed on a sofa with her baby at the breast, staring lovingly down at him, both of them bonding. Because this hasn't happened then she feels she hasn't succeeded at breastfeeding.

But what if she is breastfeeding? What if I said that this, or any of the varied versions of a mother crying and feeling a sense of failure at reaching obstacles so early on, is pretty normal for breastfeeding? I always think of breastfeeding a bit like this... After years of saving money, I've finally taken the leap to leave my job and pack up my car and hit the road for a year long adventure. I have absolutely no plan other than to enjoy this year of travelling, where I intend to take everything as it comes. A friend said they'd done it previously and it was the best thing they'd ever done, so here I go. I get in the car and drive. I get as far as the edge of my town and I'm faced with my first big decision; I have two options. I could take a turn which takes me the scenic route, but then it might take me a bit longer and I don't know what to expect. It's possible it may have nicer views? Or I could go the other way which will get me on the motorway and I'll be able to get farther faster, but includes a toll road. I don't want to spend that money just yet, and I'm not entirely sure it's necessary, so I take the longer unknown route.

 

About an hour later I find myself on a single lane country track that is flooded with rain water from the day before. I hadn't anticipated it and I was really hoping to get down this road. To turn around would take me longer to get to a pub I was hoping to eat & rest at. I sit in the road for a while and debate whether I can risk driving through it or whether I'd flood my engine. In the end I think it too risky, so I reverse back up and find another way. Only, now even more annoyingly I'm stopped by a road closure going the other way!

 

A blocked road with a road closed sign

I'm forced to go the only way that I didn't want to go, which was through a heavily trafficked road with lights and little scenery. I had expected that my adventure would involve lots of beautiful sites, not busy towns. With no other choice left, I take the detour and after many hours sitting in traffic I finally get to that country pub where I can take a break to stretch my legs, eat some food, and appreciate the local area.

A few days pass and things are uneventful and I begin to settle and become comfortable with the travel; I begin to enjoy things...until...my check engine light comes on. What?! How am I supposed to deal with this? It's going to cost a fortune and I had so many plans on how I was going to spend this money I'd saved for my year of travel. I'm so upset and decide maybe I should just throw in the towel. This is so frustrating and I feel like everything I worked so hard for is now going to be lost and I'll have to go home and tell all my friends (who had all been really excited for me and threw me a leaving party) that I was a complete failure and couldn't manage it. Before I make such a final decision, I find a local garage to see if they can help. They check my car over and it turns out that because I'd gone in as soon as I had noticed something was wrong, they were able to fix it by replacing only one part and I only had to pay £100 out of my savings. I suddenly felt a huge relief that I was able to carry on with my plans. The rest of the year carried on much the same, only I became more proficient at dealing with the detours and unwelcome surprises. I relaxed more and was able to enjoy the scenery a bit more without worrying about all the problems that might arise and how I'd deal with them. I began to enjoy the journey. We start out breastfeeding with this idea that it's something that we will achieve at some point and that until we get to that point of proficiency, we aren't yet safe to say that we are breastfeeding. However, breastfeeding is not an end point, it is not a destination. Breastfeeding is a journey. You will start out and hit many obstacles and road blocks that mean you will need to make choices. Do you drive through the water; do you grin and bear it and see if you can make it through the painful nipples? Maybe you need to find another way, maybe you end up using nipple shields until you can get help and correct the latch, maybe you take a detour and end up expressing and feeding for a while, maybe you decide you don't want to do it and you go back home. Those choices are yours, and not everyone will make the same choice. The person coming down the road after you may have a truck that can make it through the flooded road, but only to find there's a low bridge they can't pass. Their journey might look slightly different, but it won't be without their own struggles; we shouldn't watch them sail through that puddle and think, "They have it easier." There may be times when you need to find your local garage, or a professional that knows a bit more to help you get back on the road you were travelling, thinks doesn't mean that you couldn't breastfeed, it just means that may be part of your breastfeeding journey. You'll have periods where you relax into things and begin to enjoy it and you may even feel like you'll journey for longer than the year you initially planned, who knows? You just know you feel more confident to take it as it comes and deal with obstacle as they arise. You begin to recognise that in the moment you're a breastfeeding mother, but maybe one day that journey will end and that will be okay, too, because you have made some memories to cherish for a lifetime. Everything about your travels will be completely different from that of another breastfeeding mother, but they are two individual journeys that are different in as many ways as you are two different people with two different babies. So, if you're reading this and you're the mother that has found herself at the flooded road, just remember that this is your journey and you can make the decisions. You can phone someone and talk through your options and see what might work best for getting you to the other side of that obstacle, but that doesn't mean that you are failing or that you are no longer able to continue your journey, it just means that your journey isn't going to be what you expected. But then when is life ever going to go to plan?

 

 

Here are a list contacts you may want to phone when you need a bit of help:

La Leche League Great Britain National Helpline: 0345 120 2918

Association of Breastfeeding Mothers National Helpline: 0300 330 5453

National Childbirth Trust National Helpline: 0300 330 0700

The Breastfeeding Network National Helpline: 0300 100 0212

Lactation Consultants of Great Britain

Association of Tongue Tie Practitioners

 

 

#breastfeeding #weaningfromthebreast #postnataldepression #babyblues #breastfeedingstruggles #failingtobreastfeed #nipplepain #ihatebreastfeeding #breastfeedingsupport #breastfeedinghelp #ftm #breastfeedingtaketwo