Mothers need more support to breastfeed

By Kathryn Manning on 01 November 2017 RCM Annual Conference Breastfeeding

The UK has the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the entire world, and this is partly due to mothers not being supported in the practice by their community and UK culture, says Dr Amy Brown.

Mothers in the UK also have a 15% to 20% chance of experiencing postnatal depression, according to Dr Brown who spoke to delegates at the RCM annual conference today (1 November) in the fringe session titled: Breastfeeding and maternal health: how can we protect both?

Breastfeeding is an emotive topic. While there are many headlines about a draconian pressure to breastfeed causing postnatal depression, said Dr Brown, that doesn’t reflect the fact that most mothers actually wish to breastfeed their baby.

Those with postnatal depression are also less likely to start breastfeeding in the first place.

But could pressure to conform to impossible ‘getting your body back’ goals in the media, not to mention well-meaning relatives trying to give mothers a break from what they perceive to be the downsides of breastfeeding – a lack of rest for example – actually be taking away a positive experience of motherhood that could guard against postpartum depression?

There is also the physiological impact: ‘Might your body think that your baby has died, or been taken away from you?’ Dr Brown asks.

She points out that breastfeeding mothers actually spend less time feeding/preparing the feed/settling the baby than bottle-feeding parents. And after six months – there’s not much difference in how much babies wake up in the night.

It is true that if a woman finds breastfeeding difficult or impossible, she is more likely to suffer from depression. Not all women can breastfeed and they shouldn’t feel bad about that, says Dr Brown.

However, they also shouldn’t be made to feel, as some of the books say that if they don’t conform to, for example, feeding every four hours on the dot, that they are failing. ‘The more you read these motherhood books the more likely you are to be depressed’ says Dr Brown. Sometimes a baby wants to feed very often, and that is normal and women should be given the space, permission and support to do that, she adds.

Dr Brown says she deals with many mothers from other cultures who are horrified that in the UK the community does not rally around new mothers more. ‘We are isolated now as mothers,’ Dr Brown says, ‘We don’t mother our new mothers here’. ‘It’s motherhood that is tough. And breastfeeding gets blamed.’

Midwives can help by recognising and supporting what normal breastfeeding behaviour is. ‘We need to convince society to value and care for our new mothers better.’