Breastfeeding is worth trying

Back in the 1970s breastfeeding rates were incredibly low. Only around 28% of women in the UK breastfed their babies and that figure included mothers who stopped after the first few feeds. At that time so many mothers formula fed that pregnant women might never have seen a breastfeeding baby, and they often had the impression that breastfeeding was difficult, painful and not worth trying.

Today around 80 per cent of women who have babies initiate breastfeeding, although there is still a very sharp drop off in the first few weeks. Infant Feeding Surveys (IFS) have shown that at one week less than half of those who started are still exclusively breastfeeding. At 6-8 weeks 47% of those who started are breastfeeding, either totally or partially, but by six months only around one to two percent are exclusively breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding rates in the UK are among the lowest in Europe and the sad fact is that most women who stop (around eight of 10 according to the 2010 IFS) do so before they intended to, having found themselves unprepared for the intense early days, unaware of what is “normal” and overwhelmed with any initial difficulties.

Breastfeeding rates in the UK are among the lowest in Europe and the sad fact is that most women who stop (around eight of 10 according to the 2010 IFS) do so before they intended to, having found themselves unprepared for the intense early days, unaware of what is “normal” and overwhelmed with any initial difficulties.

La Leche League believe that women aren’t getting the skilled help and support they need to make breastfeeding work for them and their child.

The main reasons women give for stopping breastfeeding are problems which can nearly always be resolved with the appropriate help and information.
· Baby fighting the breast/won’t suck or latch 35%,
· Insufficient milk, 25%
· Sore nipples/breasts 34%.

The support women get in hospital after giving birth can have a direct impact on breastfeeding outcomes. Inappropriate healthcare practices such as separating new mothers and babies, not teaching women how to breastfeed, not encouraging baby-led feeding, inappropriate routines and supplementing with formula can all affect a woman’s confidence in her ability to breastfeed.

Hospital workers are often extremely stretched and may have very little time to devote to new mums who are struggling with breastfeeding. Inconsistency in breastfeeding training received by staff can confuse and misinform the mother who feels unable to initiate and maintain breastfeeding.

Hospital workers are often extremely stretched and may have very little time to devote to new mums who are struggling with breastfeeding. Inconsistency in breastfeeding training received by staff can confuse and misinform the mother who feels unable to initiate and maintain breastfeeding.

In order to leave hospital some women agree to give their baby a bottle and start to lose their confidence that they can feed their baby themselves.

Once at home women can feel overwhelmed and that they don’t have enough knowledge about breastfeeding. LLLGB take calls on our Helpline from new, sometimes distressed, mothers with painful breasts or crying babies who just don’t know if their baby is latching on properly. In the past, the local community would have rallied around new mothers and they would have been given support and help by neighbours, friends and family. Today many of us live far away from family and may not differ from women in the 1970s in not knowing anyone who has happily breastfed. It can be really hard to deal with early difficulties if we don’t have people around us who understand. Mothers can feel isolated and under pressure to get back to their normal routine quickly.

Breastfeeding support in the NHS is actually being cut and there is less help for mums who want to continue but who need assistance. Research shows that if women receive support – whether it be from a friend or family member, a health professional, or volunteer breastfeeding supporter – they are likely to breastfeed for longer. Having someone to turn to for support, to offer words of encouragement, and to help deflect negative comments can make all the difference

Ideally, we would like to see a system where new mums can get individual good quality and practical support from a skilled breastfeeding buddy/supporter in the community, who could answer questions and give them confidence. She would be able to help with concerns in the early days so that problems don’t escalate, and the mother doesn’t stop breastfeeding before she wanted to.

Breastmilk supplies all the essential nutrients a baby needs for around the first six months of life and has the amazing ability to adapt to the needs of each individual infant. It contains living cells, hormones, active enzymes and antibodies, as well as compounds with unique structures that cannot be replicated in baby milk formula. The composition of human milk also changes to meet the developing needs of the baby as he matures, and even from feed to feed. Breastmilk also contains large amounts of essential long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, growth factors and hormones which have an important role in the development and function of the brain and central nervous system.

Women who breast feed for just a few days after birth are giving their baby a great start in life because colostrum (the milk produced in the first few days after birth) has highly concentrated immunological properties to help protect a baby’s immune system after birth. One of these antibodies called slgA (secretory immunoglobulin A) “paints” a protective coating on the inside of a baby’s intestines to prevent penetration by germs and potential allergens. Colostrum also aids digestion and helps the baby pass the tar-like sticky meconium – the waste product which builds up in the baby’s gut during pregnancy from substances it ingests while in the womb. Breastfeeding in the early days also helps a mother’s uterus to contract.

Colostrum helps the baby get the right mix of beneficial bacteria, while mature milk continues to provide this protection to help the baby remain healthy, creating specific antibodies aimed at fighting germs to which either the mother or baby have been exposed. Mature milk contains sugars called oligosaccharides which adhere to a baby’s intestinal lining, allowing good bacteria in while repelling harmful bugs. Scientists have also discovered something new in human milk called pancreatic secretory trypsin inhibitor (PSTI). This protects and repairs a baby’s intestine and is present in all human milk.

Breast feeding is all about taking one day at a time and seeing how you and your baby feel, and what feels right for you both, but women need to have a real choice – not one which is forced upon them because they simply don’t have the support. Once a mother does establish breast feeding she and her baby can learn and grow together and breastfeeding usually becomes a very enjoyable and important part of their relationship, and one which can continue for as long as it feels right for both.

Every child is different and will develop in their own individual pattern. In the past it was quite normal for children to continue to breastfeed until they started to lose their ‘milk teeth’ at around the age of six. Although many mothers today may not wish to carry on for so long, there is no reason why breastfeeding shouldn’t continue if mother and child feel it’s right for them.

La Leche League GB want to support women to breast feed their babies as long as they and their child want, and to do it wherever they want, whether that is at home, in the workplace or in a cafe. Working together to create a society which both accepts and supports breastfeeding and doesn’t see it as something which causes division and negativity will benefit us all.

About La Leche League

La Leche League is an international nonprofit, nonsectarian organisation that has been dedicated to providing education, information and mother-to-mother support and encouragement to women who want to breastfeed since 1956. Within the UK LLLGB began in the early 1970s.

LLL-accredited Leaders are mothers who have breastfed their own babies and know that when a mother needs a bit of help it can’t wait until tomorrow. The core of our work is our network of local mother-to-mother support groups. We have leaflets on a wide range of breastfeeding questions, information on more unusual situations, access to a panel of professional medical advisors, and books covering various aspects of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and parenting. We also provide a telephone helpline, online helpforms and email support.

 

Anna Burbidge

Anna Burbidge attended one of the first LLL groups in GB as a young mother and has been an LLL Leader for 35 years.She is currently the PR and Media Director for LLLGB.She has six adult children who now live in various parts of the world and is a proud grandmother.

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