As the saying goes – if I had £1 for every parent who came to me and had been told that a latch looks good and yet is struggling with every single breastfeed, I would be a very rich woman. The more I hear this phrase repeated to me from stressed, struggling, desperate parents, the more I know that there is something very wrong with breastfeeding support in our country.
Women know. They know when something doesn’t feel right, they know that breastfeeding isn’t supposed to hurt THIS much! And yet they are led to believe that they are doing it wrong. That they are being over sensitive and that they are not trying hard enough to make this work. When they are told that breastfeeding hurts in the first few weeks and you just have to grin and bear it, women have no yard stick to be able to measure their pain with. Sure, whilst mothers and babies are learning to latch on it can be uncomfortable at times. But if it’s excruciating, if there’s damage or if they are dreading every single feed, then telling women to carry on as they are, is completely demoralising, and in some cases traumatic.
Most basic training in breastfeeding support will teach what a latch should look like, and don’t get me wrong, this is an essential skill for anyone who is working with new mothers. Babies should be held close to their mother, their body facing hers. There should be no twist in the neck and the chin should be tucked well into the breast, the nose free. We don’t want to see much, if any of the areola underneath and on top we may see a little more. And if everything is comfortable and we can see the baby swallowing in a normal pattern then that’s often all we need to know.
But what about when we can tick all if the boxes when it comes to how attachment looks, but things still aren’t right? Does basic breastfeeding education support professionals to do that? I would argue that most courses don’t. The BFI training, for example, doesn’t teach health professionals how to tell if milk is being transferred. Surely if we are doing a feeding assessment, that is vital information. We can guess from a baby’s nappy output and weight, but wouldn’t it be great to be able to teach parents how they know their baby is feeding well? And if a latch “looks” good yet a baby isn’t putting on weight, surely we should be re-looking at the positioning, attachment and milk transfer before suggesting top-ups, or pumping to increase supply.
The woman in agonising pain, who is told a latch looks good but yet knows that something isn’t right and is dreading every feed, starts to doubt herself. She doubts the ability of her body. She doubts her baby and she wonders why on earth she can’t do something which is biologically normal. This doubt added to the pain sends parents into a place of despair. They don’t trust their instincts, they certainly don’t trust their body, they often feel negatively towards their baby and on top of that they hate breastfeeding.
I spend weeks and sometimes months supporting families not only with getting breastfeeding going and comfortable but also in growing their confidence. In giving them tools to help them trust their body and their baby. We need to be building mothers up and giving them all the support that we possible can. It’s vital that we add a “but….” To the end of that phrase.
“The latch looks good, but it’s clearly still not right, lets try some other positions and latching techniques so you’re more comfortable.”
“The latch looks good, but I can tell you’re still in pain, let’s find someone who can assess your baby’s oral cavity.”
“The latch looks good. I’ve shared what I know with you. Let me help by finding someone who can help you further with this as soon as possible.”
You get the idea. Don’t be afraid of admitting the limitations in your training. We can only know what we know. But it’s so important that we don’t leave families struggling alone. We absolutely must refer on when we can’t help any further. What we can do in the mean time is help grow the confidence of that mother. We can reassure them that you can see how much this means to them, how far they’ve come and how much they are doing for their baby. We all want to hear how well we’re doing, especially when we feel helpless. By listening, reflecting back, encouraging AND taking action, we are really doing all that we can to support families in the weeks and month after birth.
I long for a day when I stop hearing that phrase from families when they come to see me. I feel so strongly that all health professionals and those allied to health in the post-natal period should have a compressive knowledge base when in comes to early breastfeeding problems. I believe that at the moment, general breastfeeding training is letting down professionals and families, by not teaching them enough about latching, milk transfer and pain in breastfeeding. And whilst the government continues to cut specialist breastfeeding services where are families supposed to go for further help? Should they really have to pay?
On my breastfeeding courses I teach latching techniques over and over so that once professionals leave they feel super confident in helping families. I prioritise teaching mindful breastfeeding and supporting professionals to support the mental health of the families they work with. I am passionate about improving breastfeeding education for everyone who may come in touch with pregnant or new-born mothers so that they can give realistic, comprehensive and accurate information when it comes to breastfeeding.
Professional development and education is the only way that we can start to help that 30% of women who start off breastfeeding but don’t manage to carry on beyond 6-8 weeks. Many of these women desperately wanted to breastfeed their baby for longer. That’s why I now provide training courses to the NHS as well as other private professionals. I want to empower professionals to feel confident in the information and support they are giving and to also know when it’s time to refer on.
You can go to my website and find out more about all of the training I provide.