When Breast Is Far From Best

Is Breast Best?

My daughter recently gave birth to her first baby and I discovered that, despite decades of telling mothers that breast is best, NHS help with breastfeeding leaves a great deal to be desired.

This is a personal point of view but it’s based on experience and feedback from other mothers and grandmothers. The major negatives surround lack of one to one care and communication. 

There was a great deal wrong in the old days, when the benefits of babies being breastfed were not recognised. But at least staffing levels seemed to allow for real assistance and formula feeding wasn’t completely condemned.

When a mother chose to feed her baby, a nurse usually had time to help.  More days were spent in hospital, so more breastfeeding assistance allowed mums to go home with at least some idea of how to feed baby.  And, importantly, if they didn’t manage it, for whatever reason, they didn’t feel judged.

Fast forward to a last-minute traumatic C-section, mum home in less than 48-hours, scant help with feeding a baby she thought might be tongue-tied and turned out to be.  You can add to this a level of disapproval of formula feeding which can leave mothers ill-equipped to breastfeed, afraid to bottle feed, feeling a failure and at the end of their tether at the start of their babies’ lives. Have we really moved on?

Fortunately, in our case, a private lactation specialist was both affordable and available.  Mum and dad were pushy enough to get baby seen and diagnosed with tongue-tie, a tight piece of skin under the baby’s tongue to the floor of the mouth, making it hard to attach properly to the breast. This was eventually dealt with by a quick procedure to snip the skin, known as tongue-tie division.

Others I know have been told they would have to wait many days to have a necessary tongue-tie division – so baby continues to lose weight, mum to cry and dad to despair?  Again these new parents either travelled or paid for a quick procedure.

So can we have some honesty here?  Breastfeeding may be best.  But it isn’t easy and it’s certainly emotional and emotive.  Too many tears (and baby grams) are shed for the want of specialist advice and assistance at the very start.

If we strongly advise mothers to breastfeed then we must also fund the lactation advisers that will help to make this possible.  Midwives encountered were lovely but inevitably overloaded and pressed for time.  If we are diagnosing tongue-tie, we must also deal with it speedily.

It’s less a case of whether you can publicly breastfeed in Claridges Hotel and more can you breastfeed at all when you are sent home from an NHS maternity unit. 

Patricia McLoughlin