A survey of over 1000 women aged between 18-40 years old, who had a baby in the UK in the past 10 years, was discussed today on Woman’s Hour (podcast link here). Discussion of the results of this survey was had between a member of The Breastfeeding Network, a GP and a hospital maternity matron.
The consensus; ‘Decisions about how to feed babies are emotional and complicated’.
The experiences ranged from ‘A total nightmare’ to ‘The best thing ever’.
Many mothers said they felt a lot of pressure to breastfeed and a lot of guilt if they subsequently moved to formula feeding.
It would suggest that these feelings of failure that women discuss, together with the high initiation rates in many areas compared to the quick drop off rates, that many mothers would like to breastfeed for longer. In fact, we know this.
What this comes down to is support.
Women need to be empowered to make informed decisions. This includes giving them the information around health benefits of breastfeeding. This should not be pressure, but giving them the facts. In the same way we have to be given the facts around the best things to eat, how to take care of our teeth and the right amount of exercise we should take. It doesn’t mean we all do it, but we can then make an informed decision about our own and our family’s health. In some circumstances, breastfeeding just isn’t the right choice for a family and this should be respected.
However, in order for mothers and families to make such an informed decision, they must also be provided prompt and consistent support when necessary.
A mother having to stop breastfeeding, with a lack of qualified and consistent support, is not a mother making a choice. She has no choice.
If she is in pain, the baby is losing weight, or her milk supply is lacking and she has no support in place, what else is she to do? For this reason, it makes a lot of sense why so many mothers move to formula feeding, and why guilt and feelings of failure are so incredibly unfair for them to experience. She did not have a choice.
Support is the key.
Consistent, qualified, evidence based and timely support.
Mothers deserve this to allow them to truly make a choice in how they feed their baby. Without it, many are left with no other option but to stop breastfeeding. They cannot be blamed for this or be made to feel guilty for it.
Please seek the support you and your baby deserve to help you make an informed decision. It may not always appear readily available to you, but it is out there. Much of it is unknown as healthcare providers are unable to give you details of private practitioners. Many Lactation Consultants offer free breastfeeding support in addition to their private work. You can also ring the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212.
Good quality breastfeeding support is non-judgemental and not there to induce guilt, but to enable you to make a true choice. Having to give up due to lack of support to get you through difficulties breastfeeding is not a choice, it is a necessity and that is not your fault.
Good quality breastfeeding support is crucial to turn this situation around and to give mothers the chance to make a truly informed decision.
Women do not fail to breastfeed, our society fails to support them properly.