Tuesday 25 June 2013

Keep Britain Breastfeeding 2013: The Importance of Breastfeeding Support

Despite 81% of women in the UK initiating breastfeeding, by 6-8 weeks after birth only 45% of those continue to breastfeed, and only 17% are exclusively breastfeeding at 3 months post-partum.1 Clearly women are meeting supposedly insurmountable obstacles to continuing to breastfeed. An NCT spokeswoman, quoted in this article, revealed that 90% of women who stopped, didn't want to.

I did a brief survey of my Facebook friends. Of those who responded, the majority of those who stopped breastfeeding did so because of the lack of support they were given. Some stopped because they had been fed myths about breastfeeding and, without proper support around them, they doubted their bodies' abilities to nourish their babies. And those who continued did so because of the support they seemingly had to hunt down, and through sheer stubbornheadedness. Most of this support came in the form of volunteers and peer supporters, not from midwives and health visitors! And also from husbands, family and friends.

Here's a selection of responses from my friends when asked how support, or lack thereof, affected their breastfeeding relationships:

"I breastfed all 3 of mine… one until he was 6. Most important was people having the patience with me and allowing me to focus on the kids, supporting my life style around the breastfeeding."

"I have to say that after the birth, it was the lack of support that made me even more determined to breast feed! I'd been given bottles as L wasn't feeding due to tie tongue and had very unhelpful 'support' on expressing. I think that the support I'd been given BEFORE the birth gave me the determination to breastfeed despite the contradictory advice around me in those heady first few weeks."

"The most helpful support for me was friends and family doing chores and bringing food when they came to visit. That enabled me to sit and feed my baby, rather than getting up to look after them."

"I was too darn stubborn to give up and having done my research and attended a BF talk I was determined to succeed. This and the support of a trained friend and the LLL. I am sad that I had to go looking for support and groups and not once was I pointed in the direction of any by midwives or HV." 

"I didn't feel like I had much support in the hospital when H was first born, but the support from the breastfeeding team who came out to the house and kept in touch definitely helped and made me want to keep breastfeeding. Just having someone to ring and ask questions helped a lot." 

"In Birmingham support was pretty poor. The midwife was supposed to visit the day after she was born, but for some reason a message didn't get through, so we ended up calling the emergency number as A hadn't fed - ever! (The hospital signed off having seen me bf but they hadn't). Anyway, that midwife was great and helpful. Everything else was lacking support, but in poole I went to a bf support group and they were really helpful and sorted her tongue tie etc. Where I am now, there is nothing. I'm ready to give up at 5 1/2 months."

"I found at the hospital there was a real lack of support, I was left to get on with it and staff appeared too busy to help even tho I kept asking. When I switched to bottles after a week of no help and lots of tears/frustration and T losing 12% birth weight and crying non stop from hunger it seemed that people were bending over backwards to help me! The Health Visitor sent bf advisors out but they couldn't get T to latch no matter how much they tried (maybe due to me already giving him bottles and the fact he had a bad tongue tie which wasn't snipped until 15 days old). If it happens again I am not leaving the hospital until it's sorted out!"

"It makes me so cross that they don't help in the hospital. When we went back in with K there was no interest in sorting her tongue tie or getting me a pump to express for her. They just kept telling us to give her formula. There is so much pressure put on mothers by the government and the NHS, but they don't seem to put their money where their mouth is."   

"After he was born I don't feel that I had adequate support and within 24 hours my nipples had been annihilated due to a very poor latch. The thought of carrying on was mortifying, but I tried over the first week before realising that he was not taking very much milk and was exhausting himself by trying. Also i was in agony and dreaded every single feed. I expressed all feeds and gave it to him in bottles. I would try to latch him on but felt so sad when it didn't work that I gave up for 2 further weeks. Then one day we tried again and he just managed it easily!...I think a visit from a breastfeeding specialist should happen automatically before and after discharge. I think this is a specialist role that a midwife will not necessarily have the time to provide. I also think that antenatal classes should specify common problems to expect and how to overcome them.

We must not underestimate how support, or lack of it, can truly raise up or damage a breastfeeding relationship.

In my case, the best specific support I received was from the Infant Feeding Co-Ordinator at the hospital, after B was readmitted with high salt levels, and from the NCT Breastfeeding Counsellor I contacted. In addition to those, my mum was awesome in reminding me that I was a breastfeeding mum and imparting all her knowledge from her time as an LLL Counsellor, and my husband was a rock, after making a few rooky mistakes. You can read about his take on support here. I also got lots of advice, encouragement and prayer from my best friend over the phone. And once we were established, there were still the occasional bumps in the road. Being a member of a Breastfeeding Support group has been really helpful. I have a real life group, and several on Facebook, where I can access others' advice and experience.

However, as it is clear that if you want breastfeeding support, you are going to have to look for much of it yourself, it is certainly worth educating yourself (and those around you!) about breastfeeding before the baby arrives. There are some brilliant books out there. The one I found most helpful was The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by the La Leche League. I read it, pretty much cover-to-cover, before B was born. Others I've heard recommended, but haven't yet read, are Breastfeeding Made Simple by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett and Nancy Mohrbacher and The Food of Love by Kate Evans.

There are also some fantastic websites out there, with information, encouragement and facts:

And there are some great groups to be a part of on Facebook:
Breastfeeding Matters
Mothers Overcoming Breastfeeding Issues
If At First You Don't Breastfeed
The Leaky Boob
The Analytical Armadillo
Dispelling Breastfeeding Myths
The Breastfeeding Network

People and books to AVOID:
Clare Byam-Cook (here's why: Clare Byam-Cook In The Times - Say What?)
Formula companies offering advice - they don't want you to carry on breastfeeding!
The majority of articles in the Daily Mail.
Tracy Hogg (The Baby Whisperer), Gina Ford (Contented Little Baby) & other baby-trainers - scheduled feeds can damage your milk supply.

Here in Bedford there is a brilliant (and free) Preparing to Breastfeed course, and many, many places to go to find peer support, etc. after baby is born. I didn't know about all these places when B was born, so I'm glad to know where to go if I need more help with the new baby in November.

Back in the day when breastfeeding was the norm, and in current times where people live in tribes or close-knit communities, women saw/see their mothers, sisters, aunties, etc. breastfeeding their babies. Learning happened through observation. There was always someone around who knew how to do it, how to help. But we live in a time and culture where it is more likely that we will see bottlefeeding than breastfeeding. We don't learn through osmosis and observation anymore. Where it was only the baby who had the real learning curve at the breast, now mothers too are having to learn something that we keep being told is natural, and therefore easy. It's not always easy, but we must fight to get the support we are entitled to, and to stop the barriers to achieving our breastfeeding goals. We must teach our daughters, and our sons, so that the next generation will not have the difficulties that we have. Support, in its many forms, is of the utmost importance.

How important was support in your breastfeeding journey?
If you are yet to breastfeed a baby, what support are you putting in place for when the time comes?

You've found the logo - now enter the competition below.

Check out some of the other Scavenger Hunt bloggers:
Mixed Bag of All Sorts - I'm a breastfeeding Mum to two boys - a baby and a 2 year old who's still not too old for mummy milk. After struggles in the first six months of breastfeeding my first baby, I got very passionate about sharing our story and trying to help other Mums in similar breastfeeding situations. Apart from breastfeeding, I also like to write about all sorts including mum-hood, food, my faith, cloth nappies and craft.
Hex Mum - My name is Mandi Jane Morrison.  I am aged mid 30s and a qualified nursery nurse, I have a BA(hons) degree in childhood and youth studies.  I am a breastfeeding peer supporter and chairperson of the local NCT branch.  I have been with my husband Asa for 16 years and we have been married for 11.  I do not have much time for hobbies as I am pretty much a full time mum to our six wonderful children, which leaves very little spare time.
A Baby On Board -  A blog about life in London as a mum to my daughter Eliza. It covers everything from breastfeeding to baby clothes.
Let's Walk Together for a While - I offer a lot of different ways to support mothers and families, but whatever role my support comes in - my aim is to support you so that you can get to where you need or want to be.  The process is a collaboration.

Breast4Babies - I began my breastfeeding journey 14 years ago.  I had always known that I would breastfeed, but no-one really knows how they will manage with this very emotional and sometimes difficult journey.

And check out one of the competition sponsors:

Lonely Scribe are a small publishing company focusing on books that make a difference - non-fiction titles that can help us find value and purpose in life. From parenting to prayer, they aim to provide an open, reflective view on what it is to be human. They're offering a prize of a signed copy of "Breastfeeding: Stories to Inspire and Inform" 




  1. Biggest supporter is my husband and ibclc

  2. It really is frustrating how little support there is. I honestly cried with every feed for my daughter until she was about 4 months, and found out when I did my peer supporter training that she has a tongue tie that hadn't ever been checked for, or even mentioned in passing. Every week I saw the HV, I was told to give her a couple of bottles a day, but at the same time praised for continuing to feed.


    1. Nuts! It's obviously a box ticking exercise for some HCPs - tick that bf is encouraged, tick that baby is gaining weight, etc. with no actual thought or education or assistance. Well done for getting as far as you have.

  3. I had great support from the Infant Feeding Service - which I only found out later is a special service for my area. Lisa visited me several times in the early days, phoned me up to see how I was doing and was only a phone call away if I wanted to ask anything. She always has a very gentle tone and all the time in the world for me.
    The other great support was from a friend who was very encouraging. She lent me her Food of Love book which I read during pregnancy and found it useful to learn the biology of breastfeeding. She also phoned me up to ask how things were going and prayed for me.
    I'm usually nervous about asking others for help, but I'm really pleased that I asked for help early to get things sorted before they became a problem.

    1. That is definitely the thing - getting the courage up to admit we're stuck and need the help. It's such a shame though that we have to get to that point. I'm so pleased that you have a great service in your area.

  4. kelly mom website is quite good

  5. My boyfriend is my supporter is always there with snacks and drinks

  6. My Husband, couldn't have got the first few weeks without his support.

  7. My friend Kate (who has a son 4 months older than my DD) and the local LLL.

  8. charlotte louise25 June 2013 at 21:02

    except for the midwife and health visitor I had no support so I trained to be a peer supporter in my town

  9. my biggest supporter is my OH who saw me through the early nights with baby no 1 when we struggled with latch issues, and ended up referred back to the hospital for a feeding plan which involved a very difficult schedule of expressing and topping up. he also understands how important breastfeeding is for both mine and our childrens health.
    But I also have a community of women friends who have breastfed/are breastfeeding and its their support that gets me through the ups and downs.

  10. Also I love your comments on who to avoid when looking for support and information

    1. Thank you. I've started to get quite worried by the number of pregnant friends who've told me they've been given this or that book. People now have such a warped idea of what is normal for babies, and these authors feed into that.

  11. My boyfriend and the pink ladies!! i dont think ill be still feeding without them :)

  12. A lactation consultant who diagnosed my daughter's tongue tie.

  13. I couldn't have got through the early days with DS1 without my hubby and a supportive midwife, plus the importance of Feeding Friends both in the early days and as our BFing became "extended" can't be underestimated.

  14. My hubby, always there to listen and behind BF 100%