Getting support for breastfeeding
The overwhelming need of the women we spoke to was for contact with and support from other women who had breastfed or were currently breastfeeding. Many women went to great lengths to set up their own support networks consisting of family, friends, support groups and health professionals.
Support from her partner made a big difference but the best support was that which she sought...
So you got a lot of support from your partner once'
'you came home?
Various people within my family gave the general support that they give, that they could give but I don't think anybody felt in a position to help with feeding, you know, that was kind of, all that's your area and that's, I mean I'm not lucky enough to have my mum that lives nearby, I never have, and, you know, telephone support is, it's one thing, she came over when the baby was six weeks old and that, that made a big difference, and she's done the same whenever I've had any subsequent children, but, I found the support that I've sought out myself through the people I'd, people I've met in the NCT have been, have been great and I don't think there's any, any better support that you can get than, than that from somebody else who's either done it or is doing it, so I found the sort of coffee mornings and things like that once I, once the baby was, you know, a few weeks old and, you're able to get out and about, that was, that's been a great support, when I've had all of the children it's been, it's been immense, just to be able to talk to somebody else that's going through it, and you do find that as your confidence grows you're probably not so much getting the support from them, as supporting them but you don't even realise that at the time, you know, I think they, just having a conversation about breastfeeding I think, is for both of you just to hear somebody else saying, 'Oh I've done that' or, 'Yes and we've been there' it does make a big difference so that's where most of my support has come from, is from, from others that I've met.
And finding out that what you're going through'
And that somebody else has been there and done that or, it makes a big difference. Yes, yeah, I think when you have more than one child you find that you have so much else to think about, [baby coughs], and not having, not having sort of friends and family on the doorstep makes, makes a big difference, and when, when we moved we were quite, I felt quite isolated when I had my son, and my daughter was, three and a half, three years and nine months old when I had, when I had my s
Support for breastfeeding included:
- practical (like preparing meals, doing the washing or shopping, minding an older child or minding the baby so that the mother could get some sleep);
- social (like visiting or chatting to other women about their experiences either in a support group environment or over the telephone or internet);
- informational (like sharing tips for solving problems or dealing with situations);
- emotional/psychological (like offering encouragement and praise, telling the mother how well she was doing with her breastfeeding and helping her to keep things in perspective)
- and advocacy (like supporting women in defending their decisions against contradictory/unwelcome health professional advice).
Many women said that it was important to know where to go for support and information, especially at any time. They suggested keeping contact details or a list of telephone numbers (see 'Resources')*1.
She had a very supportive friend. Without her she would not have continued to breastfeed.
Many of the women attended some form of support group and said that the people there were the most useful source of help and advice. They realised that they were not on their own and not the first person to have experienced what they were going through. They often called for help with a problem in the beginning but then continued to go along for the social contact and the opportunity to talk to women who understood and encouraged them.
While she was getting support from her lactation consultant she was also getting support from the...
I did because, for only because I was seeing the lactation nurse and it was like a open like clinic and all the mothers who was having problems would come in so you, I used it then as like my postnatal type therapy thing and we used to talk to each other and we'd have a coffee or a cup of tea while feeding and trying, and then the lactation nurse would come round and see if we was alright and, and then see if we've got any ideas and that's the only way I met them but there are groups around that you can go to but because I was going over there twice a week to get my positioning right I never got a chance to go to the other places but hopefully next time round, now I've got a bit more knowledge of breastfeeding and what to look out for if their attachment is bad, then perhaps if I did need to go and see a lactation nurse again I'd be in the earlier stages rather than the later stages so I won't have to be going over there for so long, and I probably would go to, like other places to meet mums and that.
Why do you think it's important to talk to other mums?
Because you get their experiences and as a mother sometimes when especially when you're like off on maternity leave from work so, you're, you're not having much social contact with other adults so it's a good thing to interact with the persons of your own age and you get to know their experiences, some of them, like not all the mothers over at the lactation group were first time mothers they were like, they were fine like with their first child feeding but with they're second child there're having a bit of difficulty so they can tell you what they found out on the first child, like with like teething gels for instance and teething powders and stuff it, it wasn't just all around breastfeeding it was general stuff that we used to talk about, even if it was just about a good bottle of wine or something like that and, not that you drink much with breastfeeding anyway but it's just for an example [laughs], but it's just nice to have adults to talk to not just to be stuck in the same four walls day in day out, pulling your hair out then, and it was just good to communicate with people and it, it helps you then, as BT say it's good to talk so [laughs], it's yeah I think definitely.
Meeting with other women to share experiences has been important in helping her to adapt to...
I came to [this town] only when I was pregnant and actually I met all my new friends in this new town when I had my baby, so when I was pregnant I actually didn't know any women in this area and nobody breastfeeding, so I came to it, and then once my baby was born I sort of wanted to be part of a group so I made sure I contacted a few sort of people and did it'.([laughs] this is my baby wanting to feed [laughs]).
So what sort of groups did you get involved in?
I contacted the NCT and I met five other women that had children of the same age, so same sort of you know, they were about, I think they were about five weeks when we met for the first time. And I, I also exercise when I was pregnant, I went to antenatal aqua-natal exercise, sort of exercise in the water, and because I went very early in my pregnancy I did several groups so actually I knew probably about twelve, fifteen woman that had done the exercise classes and we kept in touch as soon as we had our babies we exchanged, you know, sort of the opinion, the happy or even, the news anyway [laughs] and we meet regularly since then actually I am still in touch with those woman so their children are about two, two and a half, three years old now and we are still meeting up regularly, so.
What is it you get from those sorts of groups?
I think meeting up with them, we, we share the ups and downs about being mothers, about, you know, breastfeeding and when it's difficult you do need to talk to someone. and when you become a mother you just, you, it's difficult to say, I mean I stopped working and that was already quite a big change for me, and you will suddenly become a mother, you at home a lot, so and you don't exchange very much with the outside world so you don't engage in a job and you very much go to the shops to buy some food and buy some nappie's and then you come back home and, you know, you go to the parks, to the swings and things, but it's very much a world within the world sort of thing, so it's very important to be able to talk to a woman that might have the same levels of tiredness [laughs], because we are all tired all the time, and, and just being able to share the experience is important, yeah, so we giggle a lot about what we do and we just relax and, and we share, you know.
We have in, it's very interesting in my group, we talk about, we all have breastfed our baby and we all very, very different women, we all have very different professions, very different personalities and in fact it's very interesting that we've stuck together because we're breastfeeding and because we have children I suppose, because we are so, in the spectrum of personality we probably would have never jammed together outside of this experience, so the group is so important, I, in fact I don't know why it's so important, but it has put together some people that would have never, never, you know, decided to spend time together, so it's bringing things into people that they don't know about and you explain something that is so special that it, it just changes you start relating to people differently and you start making friends with people that you would have never looked at before. It's, it brings something, different into you. In fact once, I think once you're a mother you're a very different person, and that's what I discover still, and the way I look at women nowadays is very different from, you know, the way I perceived them, or understood them before. Motherhood is very challenging and in a way there is this great conspiracy [laughs] that, you know, you are just going to have a baby and it's easy, in fact you, it'
While on the one hand the women we talked to were very grateful for the support that they received, on the other hand some preferred to be allowed to do things their own way. Many women talked about how a little, genuinely well-meant advice or concern from family, friends or health professionals could actually be undermining. They spoke of the importance of being able to deflect those comments and the vital role of advocates, including other breastfeeding women and supportive, knowledgeable health professionals, such as lactation consultants*2 and breastfeeding counsellors whom they often praised. Some women spoke about their ambivalent relationship with their own mother or mother-in-law, who had often not breastfed because of the culture at the time that she was having her own babies (see 'Previous awareness of breastfeeding').
Family and friends were concerned about her and their comments made it hard to continue...
Breastfeeding is not common in her area and she received undermining suggestions from a lot of...
No just the breastfeeding counsellor really, I didn't really, groups weren't really that helpful, everybody else bought formula feeds, you know, I was one of the very few people that do breastfeed and people sort of look at you strange, and even on my board at the moment that I'm on, everybody's given up because it was too hard or, you know, and I'm thinking, 'Well I've had a baby that screams for three hours every night, I've got two other, he's not sleeping, I'm the one that should be giving up not you lot', but people do, they give up very, very, very quickly they find it's very, very hard and think well bottles are easier but they're not.
Have you had pressure to give up?
Yeah, my Mum, she doesn't want me to do it.
Tell me about that.
She spent, when I had my daughter, she spent the first four days saying, 'Oh it's no good, no good, give her a bottle, give her a bottle' yeah she was really trying to pressurise me in the first four days, and I just.
How did you cope with that?
Ignored her, but it was really hard to ignore what I thought I was doing best she didn't, and it was really hard to ignore her. But again it just, I think again that could have contributed towards my postnatal depression because again I was concentrating on so much to try and block her out, to try and get baby to breastfeed, I wasn't concentrating on what I should have been concentrating that was just me and baby, I was concentrating on everything around it, which you, you know, you can't do.
Was you mother a breastfeeder?
No, she didn't breastfeed any, 'Couldn't be doing with that' she said. So I said to her, 'It's different people, different, different attitudes', you know, 'I want to do, I had a lot of health problems with my son', I didn't want that for my daughter, I wanted to bond better and well I did everything I was meant to do for my daughter so, I said there's, the, you know, the pros outweigh the cons, and it's a lot easier so. And I can see why people are so opposed to it, because it is hard and nobody tells you, it's the whole I think, it's the whole wedding concept, you think the marriage is going to be the best thing ever and you think it's going to be all easy, but when you actually get married [laughs] it's not easy [laughs], it's an uphill struggle, and it's the same with a baby you go into the same thing having a baby, you think it's all going to be lovely, you have this lovely baby that sleeps all day, you don't, it's hard work everything you've got to work for and people don't want to work for things nowadays they just want it all given to you and that's, that's why I think people unfortunately, marriages fail and babies don't get breastfed, sorry but I think it should, that's what I think, you know. And it is hard, you know, people are, you know, I've been told by my doctor, the paediatrician, my health visitor, a registrar that I should top up [2nd son] with formula and then he will sleep through the night. And when you get told by four people who are meant to be supporting you to top up your child with formula you think, 'Well maybe I'm doing something wrong' and you need an extra drive to, for yourself, to push you through and say, 'No actually, I'm not going to do what you say, I want to, I want to do what's best for my child', but it's really difficult when you don't get no support, really difficult.
How do you deal with that advice that goes against what you want to do?
While most women were happy with the support that they received from their health professionals or had mixed experiences, some felt that their professionals were too quick to advise the use of infant formula (see 'Monitoring baby's growth') and one woman said that she felt “bullied” into it. Several women went from one professional to another who offered variable advice until they found suitable help from someone who listened to them, someone whom they could respect and trust. Many questioned how much in-depth training health professionals have in breastfeeding. One woman was upset by the judgemental and ill-informed attitudes towards extended breastfeeding that she came up against. Several spoke of the power that professionals were able to wield over them. One young mother felt that they “talked down to her” and made her feel like “a bad mum”.
She received variable advice from a variety of health professionals and doubted her ability as a...
What sort of help did you get at that stage? Did you tell somebody that you were experiencing this pain?
I did, I came home from hospital quite quickly which in retrospect perhaps wasn't a good idea I, it had just been very crowded, very busy and noisy and I didn't really have very much help in the hospital because the midwives were completely overrun that day, very, very busy delivery suite, so I came home after about ten hours and, maybe if I'd stayed in hospital for a bit longer maybe things would have quietened down and there would have been the midwives available to help me in the ward, but I just wanted to get home at that stage. Once I got home I had my mother-in-law at home with me and she was very supportive but unfortunately she hadn't had very much experience with breastfeeding either, she'd had trouble breastfeeding her baby so and she had forgotten what she had learnt so she, she was supportive but couldn't actually offer much practical help. The midwives came home to visit me every day for about two weeks and I found them kind of variably helpful, some of them had obviously had children of their own and knew what to do and sat with me and showed me how to position the baby but quite a few of them had never had children and knew the theory of it but couldn't actually help practically. I mean they knew about as much as I did really 'cause I think it was very easy to read a book and say oh nipple to nose and you know, make them gape and so on and so forth but unless you've actually physically done it I don't think you can teach somebody else to do it. So I found that a bit frustrating, and I thought, I didn't really realise what other resources were available to me for help so I just thought all I had were these midwives and, and I'd see a different midwife every day so I was getting inconsistent advice and it was all really frustrating and stressful on top of the, you know, the tiredness and the soreness, and just the stress of having a new baby so I found those first couple of weeks really awful. At the end of that I discovered that my local hospital had a breastfeeding clinic and I went along there and they were incredibly supportive and very, very experienced and, and, really a help to me to get things back on track.
Two questions, what did you do about that inconsistent advice, how did you deal with that, in the first couple of weeks when you were seeing a different midwife every day?
It was very hard to deal with so many different opinions from so many different people and I kind of just decided which ones I thought were the most sensible and went with that and tried that for a, maybe forty-eight hours and then if that didn't work pick somebody else's advice and go with that, but it was really hard and, the days just seemed like a haze now because, you know, there was just so much information being thrown at me and not all of it was very useful and, and I felt like I was being, I was a complete failure actually because all these women were saying, 'Oh well you know it's all about the latch, it's all about this, it's all about that' and I tried so hard to do everything that they told me to do and I just couldn't seem to do it and I found that really upsetting.
Women who were unable to breastfeed felt that the advice and support available is partial and biased. Their main criticism is that the information and support didn’t meet the needs of women who wanted but couldn’t breastfeed their babies for the recommended six months or more. (See ‘When breastfeeding doesn’t work out’ and ‘Medical conditions that could affect breastfeeding’).
Jessy felt let down by the existing information presenting only positive images of breastfeeding.
Three months after her son’s birth, Lizzie felt confident again and able to select information that worked for her and her son. She stopped feeling like a failure and became more assertive instead.
For Ruth the pressure to provide her milk to her premature baby came from herself and health professionals.
Jessy felt ignored at the baby café she recently went to with a friend. She said such places should also offer support to women who couldn’t or wouldn’t breastfeed.
I don’t know, there are so many questions I had and the fact that I felt ignored, I didn’t feel like - like, brave enough to approach the lady who was leading the café and ask them these questions. But it is a mother and baby place regardless if you’re breastfeeding or nothing, the support should be given. It’s kind of like - This time I haven’t felt so much because I think I’m standing my ground more into the bottle feeding my baby. But the first time, I, there was, every time, people ask me, “Oh, are you breastfeeding?” and I say, “No, no I couldn’t”. “Oh”. And it was this, ooh, this sense of like I was wrong. I was a wrong, a bad mother because I wasn’t breastfeeding. But nobody ask me before why not, or just accept it, it was this judgment thing, this judging. I felt completely judged all the time, [laughs] because I wasn’t breastfeeding, but if you can’t, you can’t.
She was isolated from family and friends with her first baby but had their support with her...
So why was that important do you think?
I don't, isolated I think, I had never really appreciated how important it was to a, a young mum with a baby being, having support of close family and friends. My husband and I were both working abroad, my husband worked long, very long days, and I would get, I was on my own for sixteen, eighteen hours a day with a young baby on the ninth floor of an apartment so, a very nice apartment but, you know, I had a caesarean section, my husband went back to work I think, probably day three or day four, and after that I was on my own. And being the Middle East where we lived there was no community midwifery service, so once you left the hospital that was it. And, I just really, I struggled with many aspects of baby care although I was competent before I had my baby, in caring for a baby, you know, baby bathing and that kind of thing, and breastfeeding I just found very difficult. But I think it was, it was part of the whole life picture that was going on at the time. I think, you know, it all kind of knitted in together really the, the isolation that I felt and or the sheer loneliness.
Do you want to go into that a little bit more because I gather you were in the Middle East?
I was, yeah, I was, working in the Middle East and, it just felt, I was very far away from people that were, you know, my family, my sisters, my mum-in-law, who I'm very close to and, my husband now reflects back and says, you know, that he wasn't able to support me because of the fact that he worked so hard and such long hours. And until then I guess that, [oh] I hadn't really appreciated how important it was for example to have the support of a community midwife or a health visitor because there was nothing, if you had a problem you, you went to see a paediatrician. And I found an excellent paediatrician but you couldn't go and see him every five [laughs] minutes or, you know, when you felt a bit lonely, that wasn't his function and, so, I did struggle with breastfeeding. Having said that, looking back, I did do it albeit for a short time, I fed my first baby exclusively for six weeks and then kept it going with expressing and giving some artificial milk, and some breastfeeding for, I think a further three months so I did try and I'd, I hang on in there and actually looking back now at a, you know, her paediatric charts and things, she gained weight and she did well, so, despite the, you know, the sort of difficulties around my home life, I suppose I did it in some shape, although it wasn't as good as I would have liked it to have been.
What sort of help did you get after the second one, other than from health professionals?
Odd, my Mum-in-law was just, well no she's not just down the road, she's twenty-eight miles away but I treated it as though it's just down the road [laughs] 'cause she's always up and down the road in her car. My husband was able to work more flexibly, he had, although he was up in London, he's got fab employers and, and they sort of, you know, working from home one day a week wasn't a problem. And he was just able to be home more, he didn't do the sixteen, eighteen hour days that he ha
An interesting and unexpected dimension of support for breastfeeding was the pride that the women took in being able to help other women and to change attitudes towards breastfeeding. As a result of having attended various support groups many of them were undertaking some sort of training to become peer supporters themselves.
She became an advocate for breastfeeding in her area and the demand for support has grown very...
She breastfed five children with ease and feels very proud of her self for becoming a peer...
This is a Peer Counsellor Course?
Peer Counselling yeah, and I really feel very proud of myself that I've done this course because I might, I have supported so many mums but I might not have received the perfect answer that I want off them, like thinking, 'Oh I'm glad you, you did this for us, I'm glad' I know it's going to be a bit while that I do get that answer, but even talking to them mums I've realised that from their expression on their face I've realised that I've eased their problems, you know, 'cause there's just a recent mum that I went to visit with [lactation consultant], and she was having, she had sore nipples, and she was having so much pain, the baby had thrush in the mouth, she had thrush as well, and, and, when I used to go with [lactation consultant] and I used to take my little one with me as well because she was home and, and I saw the mum just, she just was cheerful because she was, even though she was in so much pain just looking at me coming with [lactation consultant] she was so, just so cheerful. And I used to say to her, 'You know, if you're so determined you will make it, don't lose hope, you will make it' and we always, there can be problems there's no, there's no way that can like, you know, not every woman can have it how they want it there can be problems but if you're so determined to give the best your baby and you won't, you don't lose hope you'll get there and she used to think, you know, and then she used to come to baby caf' with, after visiting her home, the following week she'd come baby caf' and she'd used to even talk to me and, every time I told her everything, when she wanted a answer for her problem I used to tell her answer and I used to give some talk of my experience to her as well, and at the end of the talks I actually used to see a smile on her face. And even looking at her smile I used to feel proud of myself and yeah I am so glad that [lactation consultant] introduced me to this course and, I'm just, even little talks, if I'm not much help to the mums I'm just so happy that I'm glad there too, like even talk, give them talking support, even if I'm not giving them a physical support I'm giving them a talking support and I feel really proud of myself. To actually have some mums, actually asking me questions not like questions, like, 'What shall I do?' they said, 'What did you do with this?' you know, 'Did this happen to you? What did you do?' and I, like I say I just get carried away and I just blabber and blabber and tell them and they, and I just, even the thinking that I've
*1 Footnote: See 'Resources' for a list of contacts for breastfeeding support.
*2 Footnote: A lactation consultant is a health professional with specialist qualifications in breastfeeding support (see Lactation Consultants of Great Britain's website for more details).
Last reviewed November 2018.
Last updated September 2015