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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Fit for a prince?

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Watching the Duchess of Cambridge outside The Lindo Wing made me feel very grateful and very envious in equal measure. Displaying her post partum tummy with grace put her in stark contrast to others in the public eye who seem to hide away until they are back to a size six when they appear sprawled on a yacht somewhere in a tiny bikini. Her immaculate hair, however, made me wish that I had a team available to ‘work’ on me immediately after I’d had my son, there is no doubt I needed it. Nonetheless, despite all the media coverage one burning question remains…will she or will she not be breastfeeding?

We’ve all heard the slogan ‘breast is best’. There is strong evidence to support the fact that breastfeeding prevents gastroenteritis, otitis media, necrotising enterocolitis, and LRTI in the infant along with maternal breast cancer. There is also good evidence to suggest that breastfeeding is protective against SIDS and childhood obesity as well as boosting the child’s IQ, not to mention many other conditions that breastfeeding is suspected to play a preventative part in (e.g. diabetes and leukaemia). A UNICEF study entitled ‘Preventing disease and saving resources’ suggested that a modest increase in UK breastfeeding rates could save the NHS upwards of £40 million a year through reduced GP consultations, hospital admissions, etc.

It seems like a no brainer, so why are the figures so dire? The NHS Information Centre publishes the figures from its Infant Feeding Survey every five years and the 2010 data makes for interesting reading. The proportion of babies breastfed at birth in the UK was 81% however at three months this had fallen to 17% and by six months the rate of exclusive breastfeeding was just 1%. I certainly don’t profess to have the solution to this steep drop-off but I can’t help but look at these two sets of data and feel as though we might be missing an opportunity here.

Breastfeeding is without doubt one of the hardest things I have ever done. I did not find it to be the wonderfully natural, straightforward process that I was promised in my antenatal classes, in fact it was extremely painful at times (even before the mastitis episode). That together with the uncertainty of how much baby is getting, the seemingly relentless schedule of demand feeding, not to mention the nightmarish practicalities of breastfeeding in public, all combine to make it an enormous challenge for the hormone riddled, sleep deprived new Mum.

I have spoken to many people who did not breastfeed and the reasons they give for this are many and varied but they all share one common theme - it wasn’t their choice. The baby couldn’t latch, they didn’t produce enough milk, the baby was too hungry. Surely if that percentage of babies were unable to breastfeed worldwide we would have a serious problem on our hands. Support for breastfeeding mums is undoubtedly patchy but I think women need to take some responsibility for their choices too. If you find it too hard, too painful, too uncertain, then admit that and move on. Having said that Doctors need to play their part alongside midwives and health visitors in ensuring that decision to breast or bottle feed is a well-informed, well supported one.

So the question remains: what will Katie do next?

 Dr Laura O’Loghlen is a GPST1 who lives in Cheltenham and works in Gloucestershire

Readers' comments (4)

  • There is not enough support for breastfeeding mothers, it's a simple as that. When I had problems with my son latching on and was still having problems at six weeks, I was lucky enough to find out about La Leche League and saw one of their breast feeding consellors. She immediately saw that I was holding my baby in slightly the wrong position, showed me how to do it straight away, and reassured me that no matter how many times my baby demanded to be fed (sometimes upward of 17 times per day) that that was normal for him and meant nothing was 'wrong'. She explained that sometimes the milk is more watery, sometimes less so depending on the way the baby is feeding, whether he/she is thirsty or hungry...and that a baby feeds for comfort and security and there's nothing wrong with that, in fact it's good as it increases the bond between mother and baby. I immediatley relaxed about it all and got into relaxing when my son was breastfeeding - good homrones would rush through me and I took those breastfeeding opportunities to put my feet up. I soon realsied the full advantages of breastfeeding - no bottles to sterilize for starters, milk on demand and immediately, less hassle during the night as no bottles to warm up, the breast milk comes at the exact right temperature and sterilised and on tap.

    At three months check up, the paediatrician said my chubby son was getting too much breast milk and I should give him a bottle to "keep him going longer". Thank goodness I completely disrgarded her advice - baby started crawling at under four months and soon lost that puppy fat. He was almost exclusively breast fed till he was 2 years old as he didn't like solids very much so had hardly any till then. He thrived and was never ill !

    More support and more breast feeding counsellors are needed.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • There is not enough support for breastfeeding mothers, it's a simple as that. When I had problems with my son latching on and was still having problems at six weeks, I was lucky enough to find out about La Leche League and saw one of their breast feeding consellors. She immediately saw that I was holding my baby in slightly the wrong position, showed me how to do it straight away, and reassured me that no matter how many times my baby demanded to be fed (sometimes upward of 17 times per day) that that was normal for him and meant nothing was 'wrong'. She explained that sometimes the milk is more watery, sometimes less so depending on the way the baby is feeding, whether he/she is thirsty or hungry...and that a baby feeds for comfort and security and there's nothing wrong with that, in fact it's good as it increases the bond between mother and baby. I immediatley relaxed about it all and got into relaxing when my son was breastfeeding - good homrones would rush through me and I took those breastfeeding opportunities to put my feet up. I soon realsied the full advantages of breastfeeding - no bottles to sterilize for starters, milk on demand and immediately, less hassle during the night as no bottles to warm up, the breast milk comes at the exact right temperature and sterilised and on tap.

    At three months check up, the paediatrician said my chubby son was getting too much breast milk and I should give him a bottle to "keep him going longer". Thank goodness I completely disrgarded her advice - baby started crawling at under four months and soon lost that puppy fat. He was almost exclusively breast fed till he was 2 years old as he didn't like solids very much so had hardly any till then. He thrived and was never ill !

    More support and more breast feeding counsellors are needed.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I am a GP & Breastfeeding Peer Support Mother at my local breastfeeding support group. I am currently breastfeeding my third child having fed my first two children to 17 months. I agree that support is crucial & that breastfeeding is a skill that needs learned by both mum & baby. We put a lot of focus on preparing mums for the labour & birth but very little into what happens after when baby needs to be fed. I would advise all antenatal mums contemplating breastfeeding to attend their local breastfeeding support group before baby is born. This enables mothers to build up a support network & see other mummies feeding - making it less daunting & possibly more likely that they will attend the group after baby is born. Such support groups not only allows mums to discuss breastfeeding issues but act as social forums for chat , sharing experiences & reducing isolation. As GPs we are often approached re breastfeedung problems & so we all should brush up on our knowledge to support breastfeeding mothers. If anyone is interested UNICEF UK Baby Friendly do an excellent online module.

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  • My son refused to breast feed. He is currently studying Physics at Oxford Uni and has never had an antibiotic in his 20 years. I sometimes think that we overplay this and make some mothers feel failures.

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