I am all in favour of feeding your baby. End. A fed baby is a happy baby. Be it breast or formula. Obviously breast has many benefits for baby which I don't need to go into here, but so does formula in certain circumstances. For babies with tongue tie breast feeding can be a difficult and lengthy process where bottle feeding can be easier, be it expressed milk or formula. For the mums who have problems with producing breast milk, for a variety of reasons, their babies can go hungry and get ill if they are not given food in the form of formula. Feed your baby please mums whichever way works for you as a family.
I can however, see why health officials would like to improve breast feeding rates in areas where it is lower than the average. But have they looked at why? Is it a social thing, cultural expectations or because support wasn't available and breast feeding failed for both mum and baby?
The lovely midwife who was with us during my labour and delivery helped L to latch on once I was allowed to hold her in recovery. She helped me get L into position and take her first feed. But. On the post natal ward which I was on for three days following my caesarean no one came to me and offered help, encouragement or support with my breast feeding choice.
During L's first full night, while I was still wobbly of leg, L had a bit of a frenzy. She was constantly feeding or screaming. I was a first time mum in a side room with three other mums and no partner of other help available. I didn't know what I was doing. L obviously picked up on my increasing levels of stress and got more and more worked up unless she was latched on. So I fed and fed. At one point L had fallen asleep in my arms only to be disturbed by one of the other babies.
She screamed. A midwife came to see what was happening.
The conversation went like this,
Midwife "She is hungry that is why she is screaming"
Mummy "I don't think she is she has just been feeding and was woken up"
Midwife "Come and get some formula, she is hungry"
Mummy "She has been feeding every hour and her tummy is tiny I don't think she is hungry"
Midwife "Ok but she needs to be quiet."
At this point I turned around to hide my tears from this horribly unsupportive women.
I got L settled again after changing her and wrapping her up tight in a very novice way. We both slept, ill-advisedly, with her in my arms on the bed. In what felt like a heart beat she was awake again and screaming. Before I could latch her on the midwife was back.
Midwife "Come and get her formula she is hungry"
Mummy "I am going to get her latched on when she calms down, I don't want to give her formula, I am building my supply for her, her tummy is tiny she is not yet a day old, she isn't hungry she is cross."
The midwife ignored this and walked away from me while I was holding my screaming baby.
A very kindly, and probably very disturbed, fellow mum in my room came into my cubical to see me in tears not knowing what to do.
She helped me swaddle L and hold her close to my body. She said to take my mine and L's tops off and have skin to skin, to dry my tears and relax. She said I was right to want to feed her so much and not to worry about the midwife. She hugged me and I felt so reassured and so much better.
I did all she suggested. It worked and L and I slept until the morning.
The next day a midwife came to do obs on us, a different midwife, I relayed the conversation. She said that advise was wrong and that I, and the other mum were right, and that they have a breast feeding café on the ward Monday-Thursday where I could get support with breast feeding. Very helpful advice seeing as it was Friday and I was asking everyone when I could leave!
At no time during that horrible night, the remaining days I was on the ward, or the bloody nipple days to come once I was home, did I think about an incentive to me to carry on breast feeding. At no point did I think money could help me carry on with this pain and the emotional turmoil breast feeding became for me in the first three weeks.
This new policy has good intentions of getting babies breast fed for a minimum of six months. But really in my opinion this money would be better spent on breast feeding support workers. Of the ladies in my NCT group who sought extra support for their feeding they approached the NCT or a private midwife, not the HV team or community midwives. I think that fact along with my story of a lack of support in hospital during the vital earliest of days illustrates the real problem with breast feeding in this country currently.
Postnatal wards are full to bursting and the midwifes are correctly being sent to delivery wards. I understand this. But, if no one is on the wards to help mums with their feeding and baby care then more will take that offered formula. I knew that it was vitally important that I let L feed as much as she demanded in the early days to help get my milk supply in and up to her high demands. Maybe not everyone knows this and if midwives, those women we trust in the scariest of times and with our most precious of things, are advising formula to quiet a crying baby maybe it isn't surprising that breast feeding rates are dropping.
My sister the midwife went on a brilliant course as part of her training and she passed on lots of advice to me. I am also lucky in that my mum is a wealth of support with experience of both sides of the story. She breast fed me until her milk dried up following a very stressful time at about 3 months. She breast fed my sister much longer. She told me about how tough the formula feeding process can be. This all helped me stick to my breast feeding guns. And I am in their debt for it.
I think that before they offer money to mums, money which can be seen as additional pressure to breast feed in some very stressful and life threatening situations, they need to look at the support in the hospital and communities for mothers wanting to breast feed their newborns. The NCT offer brilliant advice with breastfeeding support workers only a phone call away. And there are many breast feeding cafés run in my, and probably your local area by midwives and HV which I made use of during later stressful times (more on this to follow.) But you have to seek it out sometimes days or weeks after your baby is born, by which point it might be too late.
I also fear the stigmatism that may come the way of formula feeding mums if this goes national. There is no shame in feeding your baby in a way which means they are happy, you are happy and your baby is well and growing. Few mums I know take the decision lightly as to which method they chose and money to mothers won't necessarily magically up the rates unless real changes happen in the care provided and offered to mums who want to breastfeed their babies.