Earlier this year, the government decided to withdraw it's funding of this year's Breastfeeding Awareness Week to "save money". How very short-sighted of them! Given that if as many babies were breastfed as possible it would eventually save the NHS millions of pounds. Nevertheless, there are lots of events still going ahead, arranged by local breastfeeding groups, peer supporters, midwives and children's centres. Just because the government has withdrawn funding, doesn't mean that Breastfeeding Week is cancelled - Yay!
Although the majority of women do start out breastfeeding, many of those stop breastfeeding after just a few weeks. Most of them cite myths such as “didn’t have enough milk”, “wanted husband to bottle feed so he could bond”, “baby will sleep through the night if he has formula”. These are the reasons why awareness campaigns must continue.
During my time as a peer supporter I have heard all of these reasons and more. I used to feel so sad when I phoned a mum to see how she was getting on and she told me she wasn’t breastfeeding anymore. I learnt to expect this on the 5 week phone call. I found that by five weeks, those that had been exclusively expressing had given up due to dwindling milk supply, those that had started giving one bottle a day had stopped breastfeeding due to perceived low milk supply, ie. Baby seemed more satisfied after the bottle and those that had been exclusively breastfeeding cited tiredness or time-consuming among their reasons.
All mums in my area have access to a 24 hr helpline. They have the services of peer supporters on the postnatal and SCBU wards, they receive two home visits within ten days of discharge and they keep in touch with a peer supporter with weekly phone calls for the first six weeks – yet, still, they don’t ask for advice when they don’t think things are going right.
I’ve often felt at a loss as to how to start improving on this familiar scenario. I believe that most women ask friends and family for advice before they think about phoning a helpline. The problem with that is that, statistically, those friends and family members are also likely to have prematurely stopped breastfeeding and believe the myths and misconceptions surrounding breastfeeding. Breastfeeding Awareness Week is so important when it comes to combatting the ignorance and helping these people to support their family members’ breastfeeding appropriately.
Formula companies spend extravagant amounts of money on misinforming people through their ad campaigns. The only "TV" advertising breastfeeding has are a couple of short adverts usually only shown in doctor's waiting rooms. It’s no wonder that so many people turn to formula when they think their breastfeeding is going wrong.
Last Breastfeeding Awareness Week I went to the Picnic in the Park at Pontefract Park. It was a gorgeous, hot, sunny day and everyone was sat around on the grass. There were some games and stalls and the Little Angels peer supporters were handing out freebies. Passers-by came over to see what was happening and it raised awareness and promoted breastfeeding in a relaxed and friendly way.
One day, I hope, we won’t have to think about raising awareness of breastfeeding. When we hear about how “in the olden days” people used to feed their babies cow’s milk from a bottle, we’ll think it sounds ridiculous! Let’s hope it’s not too long before that day comes.