Monday, 14 April 2014

You Will Never Breastfeed That Baby

Rather impossibly I've been around the neonatal world for almost 5 years now. I never really chose this journey, it chose me. And I am one of the around 10% of parents who I estimate, cannot walk away, and choose, in some way to remain involved.

Over the course of the 5 years I have seen a number of changes, on the whole, improvements, to neonatal care and specifically family centred care. I know Bliss are a massive factor in this and I am so proud of the Bliss Baby Charter.

The biggest change I have observed is in breast feeding. When Joseph was born I was encouraged from the outset to express. I think the nurses, from what I remember, were very gentle in encouraging this, however my midwife and one of the consultants (I think actually an SHO, were much stronger).

I had told my night midwife, who took care of me antenataly and postnataly for 3 nights, that I was determined to breastfeed. She ensured that I expressed within 3 hours of birth, the recommendation is six hours and this often isn't done for a number of reasons, I believe its usually because staff aren't sure how to broach it with the mum, who is often distressed and confused. I had taken control from the outset and knew that getting expressing established early was key.

When I went to see Joseph for the second time a lovely young (male) doctor said "what are you going to feed your baby?" I replied "my breast milk", he then beamed, grabbed a chair and gave me loads of advice. He advised me what to eat, how to think, how to cope with expressing. He told me I could go on to breastfeed. Then I didn't see him again.

As Joseph progressed I wanted to feed him myself. The unit didn't have much experience of tiny babies, and in our area there were low breastfeeding take up rates generally, let alone in special care. I couldn't get any quality advice. I tried phone La Leche Leage and NCT, but noone had any experience of tiny babies. I ended up locating the Trust breastfeeding advisor who came to see me. She looked at Joseph and shook her head. "You will never breastfeed that baby, he's too small".

And I believed her. She was the professional, I was just an inexperienced first time mum with a very different baby. My milk started to wane, and I lost all confidence in myself. My usual reaction when someone tells me never is to fight, but I had lost all my fight. I needed someone to fight for me, and for Joseph but there was no one.

How heartening now is it for me to walk around units and see that the general expectation is that mothers will breastfeed. There is increasingly more support and help. I believe there needs to be more, but compared to 5 years ago we are far ahead of where we were.

However, never forget, as a professional, as a fellow parent, as a friend or a partner the words you say are powerful. Use them wisely. 

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