Friday, 8 May 2009

Lactivists to blame for woman's death?

I read this article in the Daily Mail with disbelief yesterday.

Where to even start?

The caption on the photo for this article is "There are some mothers who instantly turn into Madonna and child." Well, no, actually. Speak to a bunch of breastfeeders and they will all tell you that breastfeeding is hard at first for pretty much everyone. Yes, it requires some perseverance. I have two children, my oldest being 4 years old (he was breastfed until 21 months) and my youngest is 26 months and still nursing on demand around the clock. Is nursing difficult in the early days? You bet. Is it worth it? Unequivocally, YES!!!! To the point where I have to hold myself back when talking to mothers to be about breastfeeding as I can get so passionate about it. It is, once past the first few difficult days/weeks when you are both learning how to do it, one of the best and most fulfilling things I have done in my life, something I am very proud of. It's a huge part of how I identify myself as a mother. It is far more than a choice of coke vs pepsi. And those of us that get past the initial hurdles to get to the payoffs see that. 

I am yet to discover the "breastfeeding gestapo." I had a relatively easy time breastfeeding my first - 10 days of mildly sore nipples, then it went away and we had many months of blissful nursing ahead of us.  Not really so with #2. To start with, he developed a belly button infection at 10 days old and we were informed at the hospital that he had lost weight from his 5 day weighin (where he was at 8lbs 1oz, down from 8lbs 4oz at birth) The record in Shay's red book from that day shows 7lbs 15oz, and we were told to start supplementing with formula after nursing every 3 hours, however I had quite  a bit of expressed breastmilk in my freezer from pumping to relieve engorgement when my milk first came in so I attempted to bottlefeed 1oz of this after each feeding. Attempted. My son would have NOTHING to do with that bottle and screamed at me for trying.  So, I rang my midwife the next day and told her I was going to be nursing him every 2 hours at least, more if he demanded it, but would be waking him to make sure he had at least this, but there would be no supplementation. Next day, she came around with the scales. Two days after being apparently 7lbs 15 oz my son weighed 9lbs even.

I don't think it is even possible for a child to gain over a pound in 2 days.  We realised that the problem had been that in the hospital they had put the scale on a bed (Scales have to be placed on a spirit level surface to be accurate) and also the weight, in grams, was rounded down. So, what was an approximation was used to try and label my child as failure to thrive when there was nothing wrong with him. I had a doctor tell me that day that if my baby wanted to nurse more than every 4 hours then clearly I wasn't making enough milk for him, and that many mothers do not make enough milk for their children. When I argued back he called for backup and  I had several of them arguing at me. Where was my breastfeeding gestapo then? Had I been a first time mother who had never breastfed before, I would have gone running straight to the formula, and been one of those women who say "I don't make enough milk."

Then at 5 weeks old, he for some reason started to scream through every feeding. This lasted until he was approx. 10 weeks and was hell on earth.  I believe it was to do with introducing a dummy shortly before, as he would take that piece of plastic crap and I would have to quickly whip it out to insert my boob or he wouldn't eat.  I rang the breastfeeding helpline when it all started and I was about ready to lose my mind and was told I would get a call back. Which I didn't, for FIVE DAYS.  By the time I finally did, I had been all over the internet looking for a solution, and finally figured out swaddling really helped, so I did this until he grew out of the phase.  Of course, I got lots of "helpful" advice from family/friends "Just give him a bottle!!!!" It was a bank holiday weekend, as it always is when you need help and can't get anyone.  

This is the problem we have - It's not lactivists, it's a lack of support for mothers when they need it most that I personally blame for this woman's death. She needed help, and that help was lacking. To blame people who are there to help people breastfeed because they don't tell women to try a bottle is ridiculous.  

While a lot of mums do mix feed (breastmilk and formula) whether we like it or not, the best way to get breastfeeding off the ground and be successful with it is to stick with it and avoid all bottles. Why? Because a) Some babies will develop a preference for the bottle as it's easier to get at the milk that way and b) every bottle you give, you're telling your body to make less milk, leading to supply problems down the road UNLESS you pump (And even then you still risk your supply because a pump is not as good as a baby at extracting the milk.)  I was in a group of mothers when Shay was born who all had babies born in Feb 2007 and a ton of them mixed fed when their babies were tiny. Almost all of them weaned early stating "low milk supply" or "baby preferred bottle" as the reason. 

So, yeah. I'm very sad for this mother's death as it was entirely preventable. Breastfeeding counsellors are usually unpaid volunteers who donate their time and experience to help others. To blame them is cheap and wrong when we should be looking at drafting MORE support to help women where is is clearly needed.


  1. Well said. Thank you for posting this.

  2. Great post! I agree people need to stop blaming breastfeeding and breastfeeding supporters for everything.