Nikki Mather IBCLC is a Lactation Consultant and Doula specialising in support throughout pregnancy, birth and the early years of parenting. Here she discusses the challenges for parents in Infant Feeding and the lack of funding for statutory services.
“Experts” in infant feeding come storming into the media with their well versed opinions on how they think babies should be fed, by which means and how often, mostly without the evidence to support their well marketed techniques. Parents everywhere doubt their instincts, have a difficult time knowing who to go to and find their friends are as in the dark as they are.
Where to turn? Who do you seek out when you are having problems with infant feeding? This used to be an aunt, sister or your own mother. Nowadays we have a difficult time finding infant feeding support, particularly for breastfeeding issues and everyone has their own take on the biological sciences of breastfeeding.
This is why parents find it difficult to know where to turn and is true of many scenarios.
Some stories are shared with you below from parents who have experienced confusion and not known who to believe, where to turn or what to do for the best. Please feel free to send me a story to add, either as a parent or birth worker.
*Parents – here is a great guide for who to look for if you have infant feeding issues and how they may help
“Your baby does not have a tongue tie, but you do Dad!”
When diagnosing things that aren’t within your scope of training, where is the signposting to other services in place of a best guess?
Other services who could better support ongoing issues exist in many areas, why not use them? Sometimes parents hear healthcare professional’s words as the “final” conclusion. Sometimes those words are found to be incorrect. Do you know the answer to the problem or has your answer been formed from personal opinion and anecdote due to the lack of training in that particular area?
“Your baby’s latch is perfect!”
Parents with shredded nipples and hungry babies are told their latch is perfect, “just keep feeding, hun”. Stories of people telling mothers they must feed the baby every 2 hours and stop pumping to increase their supply because the baby can do that for her….. without looking from a holistic point of view at the whole story for THIS family and THIS situation. Or the time a mother cries as she nurses her sore breasts because she was incorrectly told breastfeeding needs to stop for the medication to be prescribed for mastitis.
A myriad of supporters step beyond their remit regularly, sometimes without the reflection needed to see what’s happening and the lack of support from supervision to know what they don’t know. We see this often in social media groups – well meaning parents telling other parents what to do without a sound evidence base or personalised observations. We see it in homes, hopsitals, clinics and GP surgeries. We hear the stories from parents of feeling unsupported to breastfeed, given incorrect information and not knowing where to turn due to the diverse opinions given, instead of evidence based, person centred information and at times being unable to tell the difference between fact and fiction.
Questions to consider…..
If you haven’t had additional specialist training in oncology, would you diagnose and set a plan of treatment for cancer on a home visit or in a clinic?
If a person needs specialist mental health services, would you begin a full counselling session and offer anecdotal advice based on your personal experience in a five minute appointment?
If a person needs a full assessment by an orthopaedic surgeon to discover the cause of their ongoing, unrelenting shoulder pain, would you tell them “go home, rest and use the other one instead”?
Why treat infant feeding any differently? Signpost to the people who are trained in lactation. There is importance in recognising where your support comes to an end and that you can continue to walk alongside somebody else with specialist training, like a Breastfeeding Counsellor or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant as issues are ironed out or bespoke plans put in place which you can help with. Do you know about the Drugs in Breastmilk Helpline or the information sheets from Association of Breastfeeding Mothers and Breastfeeding Network for both families and professionals? These are useful for everybody to learn from, reference and use in daily support for families.
Why not signpost to other services like your colleague who is a specialist in perinatal mental health?
Knowing where to go in your local area is important, signposting is everybody’s best friend – because we don’t hold all of the answers; as doulas, as doctors, as midwives, as peer supporters or lactation consultants. Signpost to the other department, go to the other community service with a referral, contact the voluntary sector services.
Anybody can build a network of support around the communities you work within, so people can be signposted to appropriate services for them. Get to know your local birth workers, doctors, midwives, doulas, breastfeeding counsellors, sling libraries, hypnobirthing and yoga teachers. Signpost to different services if you know it is not available in your clinic.
Bring in the people who know more than you do, it is OK not to be the one who holds the answers, and instead walk alongside families whilst somebody else supports them achieve their goals, preferences and wishes.
Parents are the experts of their experience. Listening to them is key for reflection and continual professional development. That seems to me worth more to everyone than a short course for knowledge.
Find your local infant feeding support online. Searching your local area will help discover where to find the people who can help you in groups, clinics or home visits.