I’m very proud to be part of #MatExp; a maternity experience campaign that came about during NHS Change Day 2015. #MatExp is a powerful social campaign involving people from all walks of life from all across the country. There is no hierarchy, just people wanting to help improve maternity experience. #MatExpHour is part of the #MatExp campaign and was launched so anyone on Twitter wanting to help improve maternity care can join in and discuss topics that have affected women throughout the UK.
#MatExpHour is held every Friday and alternates between two different times (1200-1300 or 2000-2100) on alternate weeks so that as many people as possible can join in. The full schedule of topics is available on the #MatExp website and the #MatExp Facebook group. All you need to do to take part is to follow the #MatExpHour tag or tweet me @23weeksocks also using the #MatExpHour tag.
The topic for last Friday’s #MatExpHour was access to specialist breastfeeding support on the postnatal ward; a topic which I know many of those involved in #MatExp feel very strongly about.
I personally struggled to breastfeed Squidge and was offered very little in the way of breast feeding support despite being in a quite, community hospital for three days after Squidge was born. As a result Squidge was admitted to hospital twice before he was two weeks old due to weight loss, dehydration and severe jaundice. It appears I’m not alone in receiving very little in the way of breast feeding support and during #MatExpHour I learned about the experiences of other women who had also struggled with breast feeding.
During #MatExpHour we identified many different barriers to successfully establishing breast feeding, including midwives being busy and overstretched, lack of time devoted to establishing breast feeding, lack of trained breast feeding support workers available on postnatal wards and inconsistent information being given.
One particular area where conflicting advice was given was regarding the use of nipple shields, with some women saying that they were encouraged to use them by one healthcare professional and then told off for using them by another. Nipple shields, breast shields and other breast feeding tools can be hugely helpful and beneficial but there seems to be no set protocol for their use which leaves women confused as to whether or not they should be using them, regardless as to whether they find them useful.
We were very pleased that Emma Sassaru, a trained doula and breast feeding peer support worker was able to join us during her lunch break and share her extensive experience. Emma is able to offer home visits for women attempting to establish breast feeding and also runs a breast feeding support group. Despite being able to offer such high quality support Emma is still very aware of the fact that the provision of breast feeding support is not considered a priority in most hospitals and so the necessary funding is simply not available.
Emma highlighted the importance of providing consistent information about ‘normal’ newborn behavior during antenatal appointments so that women are aware of facts such as how many times a newborn is likely to feed per day, how long feeds are likely to last and about behaviours such as cluster feeding. Despite being a neonatal nurse and being trained in providing breast feeding support I wasn’t aware that cluster feeding was normal and so when Squidge wanted to feed multiple times over a few hours I assumed that he was comfort feeding as opposed to actually being hungry.
One of the main barriers to establishing successful breast feeding is how keen healthcare professionals are to introduce formula and bottle feeds when breast feeding is not going well. The second time Squidge was admitted to hospital I was told by the doctors that I needed to stop breast feeding because it was clear that it was making Squidge unwell. I knew all of the benefits of breast feeding back to front but I was so scared about making him ill that I started bottle feeding because I knew that at least then we wouldn’t end up back in hospital. Several other women experienced similar difficulties and ended up introducing formula because they felt that it was the best thing for their baby.
One of the biggest issues raised during #MatExpHour was the lack of signposting to breast feeding support available after discharge. Although some of us had heard of La Leche League and the Breast Feeding Support Network, when we were struggling to feed we were also stressed, sleep deprived and uncertain in our new roles as mothers. We didn’t know which sources of information were reliable or how to access them and this wasn’t something that was discussed during antenatal appointments.
Although most of us were aware that there were peer breast feeding support groups (or ‘cafes’) run in our local areas we were still struggling to leave the house with a newborn. We also found attending groups difficult because we felt guilty and as though we were failures for not being able to breast feed. Admitting that you’re finding something difficult, especially if it’s something that you’ve been told should be easy requires quite a lot of bravery; something that we didn’t feel like we had an awful lot of at the time. There is also the simple problem that most avenues of breast feeding support aren’t available during the weekend or on bank holidays and so women could be without support for several days at a time.
We all agreed that more needed to be done to provide women with simple, reliable, easily accessible information regarding breast feeding during antenatal appointments. Suggestions included women being supplied with a list of phone numbers for NHS approved breast feeding support networks or stickers containing By ensuring that women know that breast feeding isn’t always easy (as many of us are led to believe) it means that they aren’t struggling to find support when they are at their most vulnerable.
This Friday’s #MatExpHour (02.10.2015) will begin at 2000 where we’ll be discussing multiple pregnancies and how the experience of carrying/giving birth to twins, triplets (or more!) differs from singleton pregnancies.
Hope to see you there
Louise is a full time mum, a part time neonatal nurse and award nominated blogger who has battled depression for many years but was particularly ill during her pregnancy. She lives with her husband (the Northern One) their little boy (Squidge) and their three guinea pigs who live in the kitchen.
Louise blogs at 23weeksocks (http://23weeksocks.com) about lots of different (and seemingly unconnected) topics that she’s passionate about, including mental health, antenatal depression, neonatal care and baby loss. She’s also involved in #MatExp (https://www.facebook.com/groups/MatExp/); an online maternity experience campaign that was formed to help improve maternity services in the UK. As part of this she hosts the #MatExpHour Twitter chat every Friday and would love to see you there.