After reading online today about a new trial that is being carried out in Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire that involves new mothers being given £200 worth of vouchers if they breastfeed their babies I felt compelled to get the laptop fired up and blog. The trial that involves 10,000 women offers women £120 in vouchers for various retailers including Tesco, Argos and Debenhams if they sign a declaration stating that they will breastfeed their babies for six weeks. They will then receive a further £80 if they are still breastfeeding their babies at six months. I personally think that this is a gross misspending of money that would do so much good elsewhere.
It may surprise you that I am very against this trial considering that I am the first person to sing the praises of breastfeeding and that I have breastfed my son for a year and we are still going strong. It’s true I do think that breastfeeding is amazing and I do think that the fact Britain has the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world is a problem that does need to be addressed. But to me bribing women with shopping vouchers is not the way to go about it. The money could be much, much better spent supporting and educating new mothers on the health benefits of breastfeeding and ensuring that they receive adequate support. To be completely honest I think the fact I have been able to breastfeed for so long is purely down to the fact I was lucky. Of course breastfeeding was painful at the start and I did need determination to get through that, but we had no problems with tongue tie or latch and it came pretty naturally to both me and my baby. I feel like if I had found it more difficult then I wouldn’t have known who to go to for support, and in those early weeks post birth where you feel completely overwhelmed and emotional anyway it would have been all to easy to go down the route of formula, especially when you are a first time mum.
My personal experience with certain (not all) health visitors I have seen has shown me that some healthcare ‘professionals’ definitely need some refresher training when it comes to breastfed babies. I remember going to get my son weighed when he was just under six months old, the health visitor asked if I had any concerns and I mentioned that he woke a lot during the night. At that time I didn’t realise that it was very common for breastfed babies to do this to keep milk supply up, for comfort, thirst and to help protect them against SIDS. The health visitor informed me that there was no reason why my son should still be waking and advised me to sleep train using controlled crying. In hindsight this is terrible advice. Had this worked it could have put my milk supply in jeopardy and increased the chances of me having to give up breastfeeding completely. In addition to this how rapidly a breastfed baby gains weight compared to a formula fed baby differs. Health visitors don’t usually take account of this and if your breastfed babies weight gain doesn’t fit their precious charts they quite frankly make you feel like an awful mother, even when you are breastfeeding on demand day and night and your baby is healthy and happy. Health professionals need to know the differences between formula and breastfed babies and tailor their advice accordingly. If you are the only one in a group of mums who is breastfeeding and everyone elses formula fed baby is sleeping better and putting on weight quicker than yours it’s easy to feel like you aren’t doing a good job. But in reality weight gain (unless very low obviously) is not the only measure of health in a baby and formula is harder for a baby to digest so it does stay them longer meaning they may sleep better. I would just like to state here that I know there are some fabulous health visitors out there that are incredibly knowledgable on breastfeeding, I have unfortunately only met one such health visitor on my journey.
I personally think the money being spent on these trials should be spent on providing better breastfeeding facilities in public places. Some women are happy to breastfeed in public and that’s brilliant but if you are a new, first time mum the chances are you won’t be, especially when some people can be complete arseholes about it! Feeling anxious to leave the house with your new baby for fear they will need feeding and you won’t be able to find somewhere private to do it, can make some mums turn to bottles for convenience. I also believe that regulations should be put in place that require workplaces to provide clean, comfortable and private areas where mothers who are returning to employment can pump. It’s impossible to do a long shift at work without pumping, or you are risking mastitis and reduction in supply and not all women have the luxury of being able to stay off of work for large amounts of time.
Another area in which the money could be better spent is education. I think if people were more aware of all the benefits that come with breastfeeding then they would be more keen to do it with or without vouchers. Surely the health and wellbeing of your baby is more important that two hundred quid to spend in Argos?! I think we also need to take into account the way that this ‘incentive’ could make mothers who feed with formula feel. Breastfeeding isn’t easy and if you have a newborn and other young children it would be very hard without support from partners or family and friends, especially in the early days where babies want to cluster feed for hours at a time. I really enjoy breastfeeding for the most part, but I will be the first to admit that it is very restrictive and makes going out for any length of time more challenging. If someone is persevering despite it making them truly unhappy and effecting their mental health then that isn’t what’s best for their baby. Happy mummy, happy baby is what I believe. It’s not for everyone, and though I do personally think that everybody should at least give it a try (don’t kill me for saying that) it doesn’t suit everyone and that’s just the way it is. Making yourself miserable to the point where you aren’t enjoying motherhood isn’t going to do your baby any good.
I just think that education needs to be provided to mothers about breastfeeding, its benefits and what breastfed babies are like. Then they can make informed decisions as to what they want to do. Better support networks, so that women know exactly who to go to or contact if they are struggling and health visitors that have more up to date training, who can encourage and help mums who are finding it tough without making them feel like a failures. The place where I have got the most information and support on my breastfeeding journey is a Facebook group called ‘UK Breastfeeding support’. I only found out about this group by chance when one of my lovely Instagram friends recommended it. Don’t get me wrong it’s brilliant and I would advise any new mum or mum to be who is breastfeeding or plans on breastfeeding to join it. But isn’t it worrying that I have received the most support, not from doctors, midwives or health visitors but from a Facebook group?! That is the problem in this country in my opinion, there just isn’t enough support and reassurance for new breastfeeding mums and that’s the issue that we need to address.