What Can We Do About Unchanging Breastfeeding Longevity Rates?

For as long as I have been a midwife I’ve seen many women start to breast feed and stop after 2 weeks. Looking at the statistics this pattern seems to have been going on for a long time. 
A woman has a right to change her mind about her feeding choices, and guilt should never be the feeling she is left with, but what I object to is the amount of substandard advice and information given to breast feeding women by birth professionals (midwives).
Often the support offered is in direct conflict with what we know about how breast feeding works, what’s going on? Do some midwives not fully understand the physiology of breast feeding? 
‘Top your baby up with a bottle, you need the rest’.
‘Wake your baby in the day to feed, you need to get this baby into a routine’.
‘Nipple shields are a good way to get you through this painful feeding period’
‘Your new born is sleeping too much, wake the baby up and offer the Breast’. 
This is said to women who have had a ‘straight forward’ birth and whose baby is a good weight, physically well in every other way, just sleeping.
I’m sure you could add your own example to this list. 
Even a basic understanding of the physiology of lactation would cure this, ‘well meaning’ sabotage of breast feeding which often leads to the demoralisation of desperately tired and worried new mothers. 
Breast feeding stops because the advise given has been taken and thus impacted on this ancient process that has kept man kind (mammals after all) alive on the planet for millions of years. 
Like the process of birth, breast feeding works perfectly and birth professionals would do well to humbly step back, deferring to a woman’s inner intuitive knowing.
I am working on a resource aimed at men and same sex partners who are supporting their breast feeding lovers.
It will include video clips , a full explanation of how breast feeding works, liking that physiology to our evolutionary development over many years. 
Examples of baby feeding signals, good ‘latching on’ and position for feeding will be shown to him. He will understand the function of the brown fat across his baby’s scapular in those early hours as the placental hormones flushes out of his lovers body allowing prolactin to do its work. 
After a man has seen the video and worked through some written material including exercises designed to reinforce this knowledge, he will intuitively know what is poor/good advice (this can be done on his own or in a facilitated group).
He will then be able to support his partner in her feeding choices. The truth will set him free from the constraints of having to ignorantly follow the advice of professionals visiting his home. 
Watch this space for further developments. If you have examples of the kind of poor advice given to breast feeding women please post in the comments section below. 


8 thoughts on “What Can We Do About Unchanging Breastfeeding Longevity Rates?

  1. Your baby’s mouth is too small. His tongue is too short. He’s lazy. He’s a big baby – you’ll have to top up. He’s a small baby – you’ll have to top up. You don’t have enough milk. Your milk is too fatty/too watery. Drink milk to make milk. Eat LOTS of chocolate biscuits.
    Your nipples are too big. Your breasts are too small/too big.
    Bleeding nipples are normal.
    Mastitis? Stop feeding on that side and wear a tight bra.
    Mastitis? Take these antibiotics but don’t feed your baby?
    Mastitis? Here is some anti-fungal cream.
    Thrush? Here are some antibiotics.
    Jaundice? Give the baby water to drink.
    Jaundice? Give the baby formula
    A top up of formula is 60mls
    Wait for your breasts to fill up between feeds.
    Feed 4 hourly. Feed 3 hourly. Feed more frequently. Feed less frequently. Never wake a baby. Wake your baby for a dream feed at 10pm. Never feed at night – give water/leave her to cry.
    Feed for 20mins (insert any other arbitary number) on each side. Use just one breast per feed.
    Let me squish and push your baby and boob together in an attempt to force them to fit.
    You’re doing it wrong. You haven’t got enough milk. Your baby isn’t putting on as much weight as I’d like. You need to top up. Top up….top up…top up….
    What do you mean, it’s difficult? Breastfeeding is the easiest, most natural thing in the world!
    Don’t feel guilty – not everyone can breastfeed you know.

  2. Angie Griffiss-Williams

    Don’t wake your baby, he’ll wake when he’s hungry.
    He’s feeding frequently and you’re not in pain, so he must be getting milk; he just can’t tolerate it.
    Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt at all, even in the first few days. If it does, something is wrong.

    That last comment saw me trailing my first newborn to ten different breastfeeding support groups in her first week to try and figure out what was “wrong” with her perfect latch. I will never get back those hours I should have been resting, recuperating and bonding with my baby. I *wish* someone had told me that it can really hurt at the beginning of a feed, for up to about a fortnight. I would have buckled down, got on with it and had time with my baby. Sure enough, as we both figured it out, the pain went away. Shredded nipples, lipstick nipples, white nipples, deep breast pain, hot breast, etc, sure, seek help, but generalised discomfort in the very early days? Let’s not shy away from telling women that that is normal and will subside within a fortnight.

  3. I dont have a tip quite yet since we’re still expecting our first. I’m really looking forward to reading others’ tips though!

  4. I believe as a midwife, most midwives have risen beyond this sort of advice. I wish well intended people would STOP trying to undermine midwives or women and their families. However well intended your article is meant to be what evidence base are you drawing your conclusions from?

    • Hi Judith, there is an abundance of ‘evidence’ that suggests that the use of ‘language’ is a problem within our community, I was with 26 midwives and students yesterday, they prompted my writing of this blog today…..I don’t think there are any RCT’s, but lots of other people’s experience, midwives and women who have been on the end of ‘language’ used which has been difficult to handle…..

  5. As a seasoned labor and delivery/post partum nurse, I run into LC’s pushing and almost bullying our breastfeeding moms. Feed every 2-3 hours, pump after feeding, nurse/pump/supplement, never use a pacifier, never use a shield… I can go on and on.

    Not only have I been an OB nurse for a decade +, I also have 7 children of my own. And recently, when my daughter was born a bit early at 36+3 weeks, the LC came in to my room on charge and ready to educate me on feeding my baby properly. This included feeding her every 2 hrs and pumping after each feed then supplementing.

    My daughter was already getting her blood sugars checked because I was a GDM and then her prematurity also… her blood sugars were very stable and she was pooping and peeing by her 6th hour of life! We were ahead of the curve as far as diapers go being a gauge for adequate feeding. Also she never really cluster fed because I had a great colostrum supply that satisfied her.

    I politely and professionally explained to the LC my opinion on pumping and waking my baby before she gave me cues, but the LC was very persistent. On day 2 and 3 the LC came back with more education and stats for me. Again, I thanked her for her time, and declined pumping.

    I think there is an issue of communication and language between patients and LC’s and other care staff. Never should a mother be shamed or bullied into something. She is exhausted, overwhelmed, and emotional all ready. We need to give new moms the means to feel successful! I tell all of my moms the biggest factor in successful breast feeding is 1st patience… patience with themselves and patience with the process of learning it all. I never want to be a contributing factor to a mom feeling like a failure…

  6. Although advise is wide and varying here(hampshire), most midwives and support workers are well trained. The actual trouble with breastfeeding rates is that there’s no professionals around when the difficult bit kicks in.
    I was so lucky with my first baby, I had constant professional support, visits from maternity support workers, midwives, health visitors every day for 3 weeks, and continuing weekly to 6 weeks. it was a difficult journey but despite weight loss, and issues with conflicting advise after moving countries, I then mix fed to 4 months, then breastfed alongside solids to 3 years. second and third baby exclusively fed to 6 months despite problems but, 8 years between first and third and now we’re expected to call a helpline for help. Or go to the nearest group if its not been shut down through lack of funding (bfn, surestart.) There are no home visits, no support or help for new mothers before they actively seek it out, if they actively seek it out, because there is a bottle and formula closer and more easily accessible than there is a professional offering breastfeeding support.
    I’ve watched it all last week with a friend, first baby, intending to breastfeed,excited, support of her mum. No prenatal classes offered, but possibly listed on a bit of paper somewhere. Day 3-4 hit, hormones everywhere, feels like she can’t do it anymore, buys a pump, expresses a bit 1-2 times a day. Baby is formula fed by 2 weeks. She’s fine with that, but what the hell just happened there?

  7. Ohhh music to my ears….pumping seems to have become the new problem solver…not allowing Mum and baby/ies to establish feeding in a peaceful and supportive environment. The peripheral pump/syringes /nipple shields should be looked at as a last resort….uhhhhhh….please let’s find a way to help build strong connections from day one so that BF is enabled along with strong communication between them.

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