Where to turn if breastfeeding gets tough – #KBBF2013

As I’ve written before, I probably wouldn’t be here writing these posts for the Keep Britain Breastfeeding scavenger hunt if it wasn’t for the support of several people. I know I am pretty determined, so that also plays a role in why I was stubborn enough to plough on in the face of adversity, but I know that it could have turned out so differently had I not met the right people at the right time. I’m going to focus in this post on the people who gave me specific breastfeeding support, but I can’t forget to mention the strong support of my husband Tom and our families, who were very encouraging and helped out with so many things in the early weeks after the birth of both my boys so that I could concentrate on feeding; without them I would have found things much harder than they already were.

When we went back into hospital with Andrew at 6 days old because he was dehydrated as my milk hadn’t come in (and the community midwife team hadn’t had the staff to come and see us between day 2 and day 6, despite our phone calls for help), we were visited on the ward by the maternity hospital’s infant feeding specialist midwife. She was fantastic, and knew just what to say to me and how to listen to me, clearly an emotional wreck, feeling like I’d failed as a mum in less than a week of being put in charge of a baby. She assessed us both and how he was feeding, and she suggested some things we could do – I didn’t feel like she was pressurising me to carry on breastfeeding him, but was offering support if I did want to. It was this midwife who first introduced us to the SNS, which was key in our breastfeeding journey. I will never forget just how important the information she gave us and her ability to listen to my concerns were to us.

After that I started going to the weekly breastfeeding drop-in clinic not far from our home. This is run by volunteer health visitors and breastfeeding peer supporters like La Leche League (LLL) trained mums. Cambridge is probably quite unusual to have a regular drop-in like this almost every day of the week, and anyone is welcome to attend for support. Half the appeal is just to be able to sit down and have a hot drink made for you and have a chat with other mums who are also not finding it all plain sailing. Again, the ability of the supporters to just listen and let you tell them exactly what’s going on is amazing, and the information they give is accurate because they have a special interest in breastfeeding. I found that my assigned postnatal community midwife and health visitor knew very little about breastfeeding, because this is such a small part of their training unless they do more on their own initiative; I had some what turned out to be very inaccurate advice from my midwife, which could have been a lot worse if I hadn’t had access to more accurate info elsewhere.

Well done! You've found another hunt logo - you can enter the competition again at the bottim of this post.
Well done! You’ve found another hunt logo – you can enter the competition again at the bottim of this post.

It was through the regular drop-in that I got to know a lovely lady who is one of the LLL leaders in Cambridge. She encouraged me to go along to a meeting where I could meet more mums who could offer me support and friendship. So I went along to our first meeting when Andrew was 4 weeks old, not sure what to expect, and we’ve been going pretty much every fortnight for the last nearly 2 and a half years! Before I went I wondered whether I would feel odd in the group as I wasn’t able to excessively breastfeed, but I was soon welcomed into the group and never felt embarrassed that I had to take formula along in my SNS – they were happy to help and it didn’t matter one bit that we had a more unusual breastfeeding story, as everyone in the room had a different story. There was also no pressure to breastfeed at all, they were just there for me if I wanted to persevere, it was my choice.

Now we are very much involved in the group: I’m on the committee, we go to every meeting that we can, and I have been able to chat with other mums who are going through issues similar to what we have experienced and give them some support too. This is exactly what LLL is about – mum-to-mum support. Apart from my milk supply issues, we’ve also had experience of breastfeeding through pregnancy and tandem breastfeeding (I’ll talk about these more in my next hunt post), both of which I’ve been able to share with other mums who are thinking of having another baby. Although I’ve often wished that I didn’t have IGT and had a ‘why me?’ attitude for much of the first half year of Andrew’s life, I have now come to see that I can turn this into something positive by offering other mums support based on our difficult experiences – it’s only because we had issues that we sought support and ended up getting involved with LLL, so if it hadn’t have been for our problems, I might well have not had the opportunity to do this.


It was also through LLL that Andrew’s tongue tie got spotted. One of the leaders noticed his tongue was a little anchored when he smiled at her, and as she wasn’t an expert, she said that it might be worth getting it checked out my someone who specialises in tongue tie snipping. I tried to ask two GPs at our surgery if they could refer us to the nearest hospital with a specialist, but they didn’t want to know (I wrote about this here). So we decided to pay for a Lactation Consultant to come and assess him. She said that he did have a posterior tongue tie, which was quite hard to spot, so she snipped it and things did improve for us as Andrew started to gain more weight from that week on. But it wasn’t just the tongue tie snipping that was good – she spent about 3 hours one-to-one with me talking through all sorts of things to do with our breastfeeding story so far, going into so much detail both in the questions she asked me and the info she gave me. Of course that’s her job and that’s what we paid her to do; I just wish this level of help was available for free on the NHS.

I wouldn’t wish our breastfeeding situation on anyone, I’d far rather not have the faff of topping up with formula, but I do hope that through my writing about it other mums will be encouraged to seek support in places that will really help. Local drop-ins are usually advertised in places like health visitor clinics (or asking your health visitor), maternity hospital postnatal packs, NCT newsletters and children’s centres. Organisations such as LLL, NCT and ABM have details of local groups on their websites. Lactation Consultants are listed by area on the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain website. You might find that your own midwife, health visitor and GP are more helpful and knowledgeable than ours were – it depends how personally interested they are in breast-feeding. I hope this has been informative, and I’m always open to questions about my supply issues, use of an SNS, feeding in pregnancy and tandem feeding.

Today, as well as the main competition with over £1000 worth of goodies in the prize kitty, I have a competition running to win 5 pairs of washable breast pads hand made by the lovely Leah at I Sew Green. Leah is a work at home mum trying to make the world a greener place to be by making all those things you normally throw away. She has some lovely breast pads, cloth sanitary products and cloth nappy-related products that you can see through her Facebook page. To enter both competitions, follow the Rafflecopter instructions below.

And finally, why not pop over to some other blogs and companies who are participating in the hunt….

Circus Queen

Diary of a First Child

The Secret Life of Kate

Oh So Amelia

Hinckley Yummy Mummy

Breast Milk Keepsakes

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Breastfeeding support: accurate info, practical help, listening ears

I am absolutely convinced that every mum needs support if she is going to reach her breastfeeding goals. Breastfeeding involves many factors (physical, hormonal, emotional, social, psychological etc.) that come together to create the unique journey of a breastfeeding pair comprised of mum and baby; the same mum can even have a completely different experience with two (or more) different children. Sometimes these factors create a very favourable situation, making the breastfeeding journey relatively straightforward, but in other cases these factors cause issues that make the journey a very difficult one.

The mums who do have a difficult time obviously need support, and I’ll come on to where you can find this in a moment. But even those who have no major issues need a certain amount of (perhaps subtle, in the background) support in the form of, for example, a helpful partner and/or family who understand why breastfeeding is important and how it works. As a society, we can all give moral support to all breastfeeding mums by making them feel welcome and normal in public places, not making them feel self-conscious and like they have to hide away. This is one of the most fundamental ways of supporting breastfeeding mums in general.

But on an individual level, what if you do encounter problems? What can you do about it, and where can you go to get support? The first thing to remember is that you are not alone – many mums experience issues ranging from relatively minor/temporary/easily fixable problems to more overwhelming/long term/unbearable problems. The second thing to remember is that there are sources of support out there, even though you might have to be quite pro-active in searching them out at a time when you’re already feeling exhausted. Our experience of breastfeeding could have been a lot worse and a lot shorter if we had not been lucky enough to find the right support at (more or less) the right time. I see breastfeeding support as encompassing three different aspects: accurate information, practical help, and listening to emotions.

Well done, you've found another scavenger hunt logo! Keep reading for more tips, blog links and chances to win some cool breastfeeding-related prizes!

The obvious place you might think to look for support would be your midwife and/or health visitor. In our experience they were mixed in how helpful they were, and I know that this very much depends on the individuals and how much breastfeeding-specific training they have had and how recently they completed it. I gave birth in a midwife-led birth centre, and it was a very positive and empowering (as is currently the buzz word in birthing) experience. I cannot fault the support of the midwives there to get breastfeeding off to a good start: they allowed me to have a completely natural birth with no pain relief except a pool; Andrew was delivered straight onto my tummy and breastfed almost straight away by latching on of his own accord; we were not hurried onto the post-natal bay and were allowed lots of skin-to-skin time; they checked on us a lot during the night after he was born, constantly asking if I needed help with feeding, and even suggested I wake him after he’d slept so long without a feed – this was really important to stimulate my milk supply.

But we were only in hospital for about 12 hours after the birth. The problems came when I went home and we were in the care of my community midwife. She was (unfortunately) on annual leave during Andrew’s first week. Of course everyone needs a holiday and I’m not complaining about that, but when we rang her team because we were concerned that feeding wasn’t going well, we did not get the support we needed. Later that week he was admitted to hospital with dehydration and significant weight loss, and I felt let down by the community midwife team care.

When we came out of hospital the second time, and I was trying my hardest to give breastfeeding a go as well as continuing the formula supplements that the paediatricians had started, my community midwife told me that I should only keep him on the breast for 20 minutes at a time every three hours and then top-up with a bottle, to give my breasts time to ‘fill up’ again. At the time I believed her, but having read more about how breastfeeding works from La Leche League (LLL) resources, I know that this is rubbish! Breast milk is constantly being produced as soon as some leaves the breast – it’s more like a continuous stream than a bucket you have to fill, then empty, and then wait for it to fill again before taking any more out. Our health visitor wasn’t much better – with her it wasn’t so much the inaccuracy of her advice rather the lack of her visits. She came a couple of times, checked I was in a fit state to look after my baby, and then left us to get on with it. I could have made the effort to ring her, but by that time I had started to get support from my local LLL group and thought that was much more worthwhile than keeping in touch with a busy health visitor – these mums had time for me whenever I wanted advice (more on this in a moment).

However, the most crucial support we received in the first week was from the infant feeding specialist midwife at the hospital when we were on the paediatric ward. Looking back, it was, ironically, good that we went back into hospital. She introduced us to the SNS (at-breast supplementer that I talked about in my last post). Without this way of supplementing, with Andrew still getting as much breast milk as I was able to produce, I don’t think we’d still be breastfeeding today. This midwife’s support was helpful and, most importantly, she gave us accurate information.

So the moral of the story with health professionals is, in our experience, don’t be afraid to question their authority and seek a second opinion – in many cases their training on breastfeeding is very basic and often out-dated because it does not feature prominently in current training (even for midwives and health visitors). If you’re anything other than a perfect textbook case, you might find they give, out of ignorance, inaccurate or downright misleading information.

As I just mentioned, I got amazing support from my local LLL group. This is an international organisation represented in many countries across the world. In Great Britain there are groups who meet in various cities, towns and villages across the country. The mission of LLL is ‘to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother.’ This is exactly what I found when I went to my first coffee morning, after I was lucky enough to meet one of the volunteer leaders at a breastfeeding drop-in clinic who encouraged me to come along as she knew I was struggling.

A flyer for our local LLL group, with lists of meeting and coffee morning dates inside, hanging on our notice board so I know where to meet each week 🙂

From what I’ve heard said by others, breastfeeding support organisations like this and others (e.g. NCT) in the UK can be seen as an exclusive group of well-off ladies who bang on about ‘breast is best’ and look down on those who feed their babies formula without persevering through difficulties. In my experience, nothing is further from the truth! I took formula (in the SNS) to meetings and was not shunned; I’ve seen mums take bottles to meetings and were not shunned. In fact it is mums like me that are made to feel particularly welcome, because mums at LLL meetings who have overcome problems themselves know exactly how it feels to be under all the different pressures and prejudices associated with how you feed your baby. All these mums wanted to do was help me in how I chose to feed my baby, by giving me accurate information, practical help and a genuinely interested listening ear when I was in floods of tears. At no point did I think that I would have been thought less of in that group for bottle feeding Andrew. Now they are some of my most respected mummy friends. I always look forward to seeing them once a week for continued support now that we’ve overcome our initial breastfeeding struggles and are into the toddler feeding stage, which comes with its own difficulties, such as the judgement from others that it’s not normal (it is normal – I’ll write more about this next week).

So the moral of the story with breastfeeding support groups is don’t be afraid to go – whatever your circumstances, your age, your income, your background, your breastfeeding journey (or lack of) so far, there will be other mums who would feel privileged to be able to help you in the way you need it most to meet your breastfeeding goals. It’s not just LLL groups (that’s what I had access to here in Cambridge); there are all sorts of other local groups run by mums for mums. Other organisations with such groups are the NCT and the ABM. Children’s Centres are a good place to look for these groups, as many of them meet there, or have links with the centres who put their leaflets/posters out. A google search would probably bring up a few hits in your local area. Or your midwife or health visitor might be only too pleased to pass on information about such groups if they are rushed off their feet with a huge caseload!

Last, but not least, I could not write a post about breastfeeding support without giving pride of place to Daddy and grandparents. I definitely could not have got through the hard times without Tom, my amazing husband. He has done everything possible to support me whilst breastfeeding, including practical help like making sure I had drink and food in the early weeks when I was constantly feeding, and emotional support by being my person to cry on at any time of day or night (he got very wet in the early weeks!) and making it clear to me every step of the way that he would be behind me 110% with whatever decision I made about feeding, whether I chose to persevere with breastfeeding or switch to bottle feeding. He never pressurised me either way, and has found many ways to help me and bond with Andrew without doing the feeding, for example bath time has always been Daddy and Andrew time. He understands how breastfeeding works (mainly from how much I rabbit on about what I’ve read about breastfeeding!) and is happy that I still feed Andrew now at 16 months – he knows it’s a natural thing because he sees on a daily basis how much Andrew and I get out of it. He also knows that I am now very passionate about sharing our experience of breastfeeding and supporting others, and doesn’t complain when I talk at him about it in the evening after a hard day at work 😉 Basically, Daddy is the best! He’s the most important source of support that I had and still have for breastfeeding.

Daddy with Andrew (aged 6 months)

But if your baby’s dad isn’t around for whatever reason, there’s no reason why you can’t have another person, for example your mum or another family member or close friend, to be that rock of support. I am also blessed to have very supportive parents who have been behind my decision to breastfeed despite tough struggles every step of the way. I guess they know me so well that they know there’s no point getting in the way when I’m determined to do something. In the early days and weeks they helped by doing lots of practical stuff for us, like housework, shopping and cooking, and they still do these things when they come to visit every few weeks on average. They too understand how breastfeeding works – it helps that my mum breastfed my brother and me at a time when there was much less support for it than there is now. This was particularly important in the early days: they weren’t the kind of family members who would come round and insist on constantly cuddling baby and questioning when I knew he wanted feeding; instead they of course enjoyed cuddles, but respected that I was the primary person who Andrew needed access to, to stimulate my milk supply and feed him as much as necessary. They knew that doing the housework themselves was more helpful than taking Andrew off my hands so that I could do it. Having people around you who understand these things is very important. Support is only helpful if it’s the right kind of support.

Granny and Grandad with Andrew (aged 14 months)

I hope that this post based on our experience of support for breastfeeding has been informative. Why not hop over to some other blogs and read about other sources of support that mums have found helpful? There are some links below, and more on the main website, where you can also find out more about the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt 2012. Don’t forget to enter the competition below to have a chance of winning the grand prize.

Breastfeeding in England – Breastfeeding support groups

Mama Geek – Breastfeeding Support – Why it’s important and where to find it!

My gorgeous boys – Breastfeeding: Where to get support

Breast 4 babies – Ten Things My Midwife or Health Visitor Never Told Me About Breastfeeding

Diary of the Milkshake Mummy –  Together everyone achieves more

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