Thursday, May 17, 2007

How you know it's Breastfeeding Awareness Week

You can always tell when it's Breastfeeding Awareness Week - instead of positive reports of difficulties overcome and harmonious mothers and babies, the media is full of reports about how painful it can be and, well, formula's ok, isn't it?

This, unfortunately, completely misses the point. In cultures where breastfeeding is the norm, problems are virtually unheard of, partly because new mothers are going to be surrounded by people who have breastfed or are breastfeeding their babies who can recognise and put right the first signs of trouble.

I think it is criminal that mothers and babies are being denied the benefits of a breastfeeding relationship simply because they don't have access to accurate information and support. Of those who give up in the first 6 weeks, 90% would have preferred to continue according to English Dept of Health figures.

It was disappointing that breastfeeding rates in Scotland are holding their own but not increaasing substantially, except in Edinburgh, where they increased by 6%. I suspect that this is partly down to the work of Karla Napier, the Infant Feeding Adviser at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. She is one of the UK's breastfeeding experts and has done much to ensure that mothers have the sort of professional information and support they need. She has a lovely, gentle, patient manner which inspires both the mothers she works with and the professionals and lay counsellors she has trained.

I have been disappointed on occasions to find out that I, as a lay breastfeeding counsellor, know much more than trained health professionals in the basics of breastfeeding management. I have seen mums and babies in a terrible mess simply because a health professional has not recognised a glaringly obvious problem or suggested an appropriate solution. A lot of the time, the difference between successful feeding and not is down to a tiny bit of fine tuning - a tiny fraction of an inch in adjustment of a position, or feeding more frequently - or simply just slowing down, relaxing and enjoying the baby. Having said that, there are many health professionals who do a magnificent job and give mothers wise counsel - it's important that every woman who wants to breastfeed can access the support she needs.

After all, if someone had invented a living substance which adapted to circumstance, preventing diseases, protecting from many serious health conditions and providing babies with the optimum physical and emotional start in life, they would charge a fortune for it.

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