I was given a piece of advice when pregnant that left me speechless:
“Don’t tell the hospital you want to breastfeed, they’ll keep you in longer and stress you out.”
My son arrived by emergency c-section at 36 weeks. He spent the night in Special Care and we were on a transitional ward for nearly week. So I wasn’t able to use the advice but I found that the support given to breastfeeding mothers by the NHS is so patchy that is doesn’t surprise that many mums are better off avoiding their ‘help’.
Firstly, when it was good, it was very, very good. A lovely Healthcare Assistant called Karen springs to mind. She felt like a kindly aunt and her steely belief in me was so gentle. She helped me turn a corner in my breastfeeding story. But, like Jemima in the famous poem, when the support was bad it was horrid. I remember one session of having my boob squeezed and pushed into my son’s mouth leaving me in tears of frustration during the early hours of the morning.
What struck me in particular was the practice of drawing the curtains round the bed whenever you wanted to feed. Even if you left them open a staff member would do it for you. It was meant to give nursing mums privacy, but in fact it was very isolating. Remember these were premature babies who needed a lot of help and would be nursing for nearly 50 minutes at a time, with only a 1-2 hour interval before it started again. Plus I was recovering from major abdominal surgery. Risking pain to get out of bed to open the curtains when I really needed to nap was not high on my priority list.
So for hours on end I was hidden away, no natural daylight or smiling faces of other mums, but the yellow strip lighting and the fading pattern of those awful curtains. You’d think the feeding specialists would like to see the mums feeding without standing over them, or just to normalise the practise. After a few days I begged to be moved to the window and see a small amount of the sky.
So there must be a really good reason to insist breastfeeding mothers do so in isolation. And, remember, these were typically first time mums who really needed help in learning a skill.
“The men visiting the ward might get embarrassed.”
Who? The doctors who are more likely to recognise me from my bikini line than my face? Or the fathers of the babies being breastfed, who really should have a decent understanding of the purpose of mammary glands at this point?
So the advice I was given was true in my case for a number of reasons. Some were due to circumstances, some poor training, but mothers and babies are more resilient than we are given credit for. A little good advice and encouragement goes a long away. School-friends I hadn’t seen in years took time to send me messages. People I’d never met in online groups shared stories that made me realise that my problems were common and offered advice that got me through the rough patches. I even had home visits from a midwife and health visitor that sent my confidence sky rocketing.
If you read the blog regularly you know that over a year later I am still going strong. But still struggle to get my head round the curtains. And they were really ugly. The chances of me having another baby are about the same as Nigel Farage winning the Eurovision Song contest, but if I am ever in the same situation again, I’ll make sure the curtains are kept open, that if another new mum is struggling I might pop behind the curtain to say the words that were said to me:
“You are doing so well. Be proud.”
If you are new to breastfeeding and unsure of the law regarding nursing in public (including hospitals) Maternity Action has a lovely summary. Now if you like your privacy and want the curtain drawn, that is fine. But I agree with the NHS that the more you breastfeed and are seen to be breastfeeding, the more likely next mother will be to follow your example. And maybe you’ll educate a healthcare provider on what breasts are really for too!