Women often feel so poorly supported in their breastfeeding journey, their emotional wounds are near palpable.
By Registered Midwife, Amberley Harris
A snapshot of breastfeeding
According to the 2010 National Infant Feeding Survey (yep – 2010 is the most recent stats we have, which is a problem in itself), 96% of Australian mama’s initiate breastfeeding. However just 39% are exclusively breastfeeding at three months of age and 15% at five months of age. In my experience, much of this decline is in the crucial first six weeks. This is when mothers are in most need of sound professional breastfeeding support, but sadly do not receive it.
The system is broken
As a Registered Midwife working with women, I have a duty of care to share current, consistent, evidence-based advice. All healthcare professionals working with breastfeeding women and people have the same duty of care. With this in mind, I cannot understand how the magnitude of mothers today are often on the receiving end of inaccurate breastfeeding advice from healthcare professionals. That’s part of the reason I am such an advocate for breastfeeding mamas.
Now there are a plethora of barriers mothers of today are facing while establishing breastfeeding. In fact, I am in the middle of making a breastfeeding documentary where I’m exploring this at length. But the topic of poor professional support is bigger than I ever imagined. Instead of protecting and promoting breastfeeding relationships, I am hearing recount after recount from mothers experiencing the diametrical opposite. Not only are mothers receiving inaccurate advice – there’s coercion, poor management, and a disregard for a mother’s feeding choice. So many breastfeeding journeys are a casualty of a system which failed them, and I want so badly, the ability to turn back time.
Real life stories
In my work as a breastfeeding advocate, I’ve heard it all:
“My baby was unsettled on night two so the midwives suggested I give some formula, because my milk wasn’t in yet.”
“The Paediatrician advised formula top ups, as my baby lost 9% in the first few days.”
“Then my health nurse said the nipple confusion was from all the bottles my baby had received in hospital (when they knew I wanted to breastfeed). I was told not to bother offering the boob. To save myself the hassle and just switch to formula”.
“Your baby is unsettled, because Colostrum isn’t enough.”
“You’ve had breast implants, so you won’t be able to breastfeed.”
“Your baby is __ months old now and doesn’t need breastmilk anymore.”
“Your baby is feeding frequently because your milk isn’t enough.”
You name it, I’ve heard it. Every rubbishy, hair-brained recommendation under the sun, sans any research-based evidence, from a healthcare professional.
What if you want to use formula?
For the mother who chooses to formula feed or who decides she is happy to move to formula, advice like above is well received. For the mother who dearly wants to breastfeed? Having her breastfeeding journey sabotaged by the professionals around her is nothing short of a tragedy.
So where to from here? If you are planning to breastfeed one day, my best piece of advice is this. Well, I have two pieces of advice.
- Do some independent breastfeeding education in pregnancy. Not what they offer in the hospital classes, but a course by a Midwife or Lactation Consultant. Whether it’s my online course or another, it just needs to be current, engaging, and cover the important stuff.
- Find a breastfeeding expert you connect with and trust in pregnancy. Someone you really vibe with, whose professional advice you will hold in high regard (and you can therefore let go of every other conflicting piece of advice hurtled at you). Book in with them so you have one on one support lined up for when baby comes. This is always a better plan than trying to get help when the figurative house is burning down, and every expert is fully booked. Think prevention over cure.
The key to breastfeeding is support
Breastfeeding is hard, amazing, exhausting, messy and life changing.
It’s not easy. In fact, most mothers say it’s harder than birth. But if it’s something you truly, madly, deeply want to experience, know that support does exists. And my heartfelt wish for you is that you receive the 10/10 professional breastfeeding support you so deserve.