Breastfeeding: Why the big taboo?

In conversation with Sherridan Stymest, Lactation Consultant.

There’s a common misconception that breastfeeding is something you simply choose to do, that your new baby will magically know how to feed when they’re born. Unfortunately this isn’t the reality that many women face.

Sherridan Stymest has been working as a Lactation Consultant in London for over eight years. Having helped many mothers with feeding issues over this time, she tells us why breastfeeding is a learnt skill and that many women are being let down by little or no help to learn it.

Sherridan: Every day I deal with breastfeeding issues that are common to mothers around the world, but because they often aren’t talked about, it can generate profound feelings of failure and inadequacy in new mothers.

When they experience difficulty, these frustrations are made more severe by soaring hormones and lack of sleep. Many women feel embarrassed if they’re not able to breastfeed in the manner expected. 83% of women initiate breastfeeding with their newborn, but this quickly drops to only 55% by the time babies are six weeks old. Most women who stop feel guilty about it and wish they had breastfed for longer.

So, why is this? Why are we are setting mothers up to fail? Our society holds breastfeeding up as an ideal, something to strive for. The notion that ‘breast is best’ has become an aspirational aim, rather than a routine way to feed a baby. Because we’re repeatedly told ‘breast is best’. As a result, when things don’t work out perfectly and immediately, it can be very hard to take.

I started supporting families with breastfeeding after having my second son prematurely. Health professionals at the time told me that breast milk was the ‘best medicine’ for a premature baby, but they didn’t tell me how to make it. After lots of conflicting and nonsensical advice, I began to do my own research and eventually found a breastfeeding drop-in run by a wonderful and experienced Lactation Consultant called Ruth Tamir. Attending these groups was a revelation; I had finally found someone who understood. Not only did I feel well supported, but breastfeeding made sense. My baby began to grow, as did my passion to help others.

I now work supporting mothers in hospital, at home and at drop-in clinics, and find it extremely rewarding. Helping a new baby to grow and form a relationship with its carer is an incredible experience. Once we address their difficulties, and feeding begins to work in the way they had hoped for, I see women transform. I get a lot of satisfaction from empowering and encouraging women to reach their goals.

For more women to achieve the breastfeeding they wish, firstly we need to support expecting mothers with more training. There are certain things that you must know about breastfeeding in order to have success in doing it. You wouldn’t give someone a car to drive without taking lessons. Secondly, when mothers do experience difficulties, it’s essential that we support them with further help.

We must ensure that women don’t feel embarrassed to seek help. Breastfeeding support is a specialism, and if you’re having difficulties you need good support. I see many women who have difficulty with a baby latching or sore nipples. These women can have their feeding dramatically improved by the help of a skilled practitioner. It’s miserable to have painful nipples, and is a sure sign that you should be looking for skilled support. Creams and lotions won’t solve the problem, however nipples can heal very quickly by changing the way the baby comes to the breast.

To any mothers struggling with breastfeeding, I would say seek out help available as soon as possible. It will revive your feeding experience. A small and subtle change can make a very big difference.

To find a local Lactation Consultant, see the Directory of the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain, where Sherridan can be found.  Alternatively, to find help in your local area, contact:

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