By Victoria Greenly – Doula UK Infant Feeding Chair
It’s World Breastfeeding Week 2021 and as the Infant Feeding Chair for Doula UK, I must admit I have been reticent about writing a post because feeding babies is such a divisive and emotive topic.
But not writing about the current situation I am seeing all around me is not speaking a truth. And it is not helpful on a multitude of levels when we don’t elevate and put importance on the need to normalize breast and body feeding with human milk.
The pandemic has amplified many of the issues surrounding how breastfeeding is supported. For some new parents, the lockdowns were a chance to rush around less, cocoon and slow down and spend the time to give breast/bodyfeeding the space and time it often needs.
But for many, with staff shortages, support going online or disappearing completely and from what I have seen an increase in complicated feeding plans (lots of triple or quadruple feeding plans – feeding at breast/pumping/bottlefeeding and hand expressing), fuelled by fear and a need for speedy discharges has led to stressed new parents and a ripple effect on breastfeeding we might never really know the reality of.
So for this week I want to think about how we can better support parents with breast and body feeding and turn the tide against disparities, lack of HP skilled support, increasingly clever and pernicious marketing of formula, under-resourcing from public funding and the negative messaging we often see around us.
In my years supporting breastfeeding, I hear parents, when the topic of breastfeeding is raised antenatally mainly say ‘Let’s see how it goes’, ‘I’ll give it a go but if it doesn’t work out, then that’s just the way it is’. I said those things in my own head and didn’t engage with breastfeeding on my antenatal course. Psychologically, it makes total sense. Not putting pressure on yourself, not really understanding how it works, focusing on getting through birth and not seeing breast and body feeding around you, creates the perfect recipe for this dialogue.
The way the topics of breast and body feeding feature in antenatal education matters too. How the topics are delivered, what is covered and what key points are taken away can make or break elements of a parent’s feeding journey. It needs to feel inviting, inclusive, accessible and sustainable.
So how can we better support breast and body feeding parents to reach their goals and get as much access to human milk as possible? We prepare parents with birth planning, preferences and choices, we are talking more about postnatal planning but what about breast and body feeding planning? How can parents, in reality, make more informed choices?
Like embarking on a journey, we want all the tools and information up front, rather than winging it and getting pushed off on a track that feels hard to move away from.
Doulas and parents can work together to make informed choices and encourage a more positive breast and body feeding journey:
- By engaging antenatally and exploring feeding choices. Co-creating a pathway for a circle of support postnatally particularly when the road becomes bumpy and skilled functional support is needed.
- By getting doula support after birth to focus on the emotional, practical and physical support needs of breast and body feeding.
- By building advocacy skills so parents can understand and question feeding plans given by HPs and can follow what feels manageable in a supported way, with a progression pathway for the plan.
- By doulas increasing their education around breast and body feeding.
- By tuning into intuition to work out what feels right for a parent and their baby.
- By understanding the messaging around breast and body feeding from the public sector, society and family members.
What do you think is missing from supporting breast and body feeding journeys?
If you would like to join the Doula UK Infant Feeding Committee and improve parents’ experiences, please email email@example.com