Breastfeeding mums need more practical support

As a breastfeeding mum I found it a constant struggle and yet months after seeking support the only help I could get was from a private consultant.

My friends who tried breastfeeding felt they had to give up because they didn’t get support to resolve problems. So while researching an article I started looking more closely at the latest stats and the support available to mums in communities around Scotland.

What I found is shocking.

The latest figures from the NHS in Scotland show the number of breastfed babies is now lower than it was a decade ago.

When broken down the picture is all the more shocking. The number of mums exclusively breastfeeding at the first health visit has failed to rise in ten years – it fell this year to just 35% after a gradual decline since 2006

In around three quarters of Local Authority areas since 2006, breastfeeding rates dropped in twenty-four out of 32 areas.

When mixed feeding is included (babies getting formula milk and breast milk) the overall rate is at 49% for Scotland; the Scottish Government missed their target so included formula milk to bring up the figure.

Following the early weaning as decided by my daughter I expressed and mixed fed for three months until my daughter reached seven months. It’s damn hard work. I salute mums giving any breast milk to their babies.

Mixed feeding is valuable and efforts should be praised. At the same time we need to ask, why have numbers fallen for exclusive breastfeeding and are mums getting adequate support?

As a first time mum I was determined to breastfeed my daughter.

I didn’t feel external pressure to do it in fact it was the opposite; I felt pressure to bottle feed whenever I talked to professionals or friends about how I struggled with breastfeeding.

My decision to breastfeed was one of the most important I had ever made; I had researched the miraculous benefits of breast milk, discovered it’s magical qualities and wanted to give my little chunk of treasure the best start in life. Surely that should be wholly supported?

Fast forward to when my girl is 4 months old – after months of fractious and stressful feeding she went on a chronic strike. She completely stopped breastfeeding despite my efforts to keep going.

I had help along the way from a breastfeeding helpline and initially from a doctor at hospital. After returning home – when I needed help the most – the support was woeful.

Despite numerous asks for support from my health visitor and various midwives I had little more than an out of date leaflet detailing a local breastfeeding clinic that was closed and comments such as ‘if only I had a pound for every time someone asked me that’. When I asked for peer support I was advised that was for ‘actual breastfeeding mums’.

The journey to four months breastfeeding was a constant drain on our family. My daughter was slow to gain weight, fussy, screamed and frequently rejected feeds. I thought I was doing it wrong; I must have been holding her in position badly or maybe I had low milk supply.

Turns out she had very painful acid reflux and cows milk protein intolerance – both went undiagnosed for months by health visitors, midwives and doctors at hospital.

Most women want to breastfeed but many stop through lack of support. Research shows that 80% of women who stop breastfeeding in the first few weeks would have liked to continue.

Scotland has a national infant feeding strategy and 100% of hospitals are accredited as being baby friendly as part of a UNICEF global initiative. 

That’s a great start. But we need to address the post code lottery of support in communities around Scotland. It all comes back to this; as mum’s we need more one-to-one practical and emotional support to have the confidence to stick with breastfeeding. And we need it at home.

Experts agree it’s time to address the gaps in support and the considerable variations in services across Scotland. You can read their comments in my feature published in the Daily Record here jolene-breastfeeding-jpeg

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