Professional Policy Advisor at the Royal College of Midwives
Deciding how to feed your baby isn’t always easy: expert Sarah Fox talks us through the options and the kind of support that’s available.
Most mothers want to – at least – give breastfeeding a try in the first hours and days after birth, says Sarah Fox, Professional Policy Advisor at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).
“The most important reason to breastfeed,” she explains, “is that it’s the right food for your baby: breast milk is very cleverly designed by the body to reflect exactly what your baby needs. It’s the gentlest and best for his/her digestion; there’s evidence that gut flora has been shown to differ depending on how the baby is fed.
Artificial milks are very good but they are not going to have that level of individual perfection.
Breastfeeding is also an especially bonding experience, and one that many women will look back on with great fondness as a unique time in their lives, says Fox, stressing that this does not mean that women who don’t breastfeed won’t bond with their baby. “When breastfeeding works, there’s an incredible closeness: the baby has eye contact, can feel the mother’s body warmth and her heart-beat, and so has less anxiety. A happy baby will develop well.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life. Fox says that this is the ideal but the RCM simply supports whatever duration makes mothers and infants happiest. “We don’t want mums to feel pressure in any way.”
Other benefits of breastfeeding are convenience, lower cost, and the reduction of risk of maternal cancers later in life. “It can also help firm tummy muscles and shed some of the pregnancy pounds – producing milk burns calories.”
Diffrent choices for different families
But it’s not for everyone: some women prefer not to be the baby’s sole nurturer, or choose formula for other reasons. Breastfeeding is a major commitment, and uncomfortable conditions like engorgement of the breasts or mastitis may cause breastfeeding mothers to change their choice.
The RCM supports whatever is right for the individual mother and baby.
“Feeding needs to be established successfully,” says Fox, “This is where the support and advice of an experienced and knowledgeable person, such as a midwife, can help.” NICE guidelines specify that all maternity units should support mums with the right information; that includes making up a bottle of formula milk safely and properly. All women should have an expectation of information from the midwife after the birth so that feeding is successful regardless of how you choose to feed them. We want happy mums and babies.
“The midwife will be monitoring progress whatever the feeding choice, and will take appropriate action if there is any concern that the baby isn’t thriving.”
And if you do have any doubts, says Fox, “remember that there are people there to help you. We’ve had women tell us they don’t want to bother busy units, especially if it’s late at night. Don’t hesitate to use those services. Seek support when you need to.
“The RCM supports whatever is right for the individual mother and baby. We’re listening to mums and working hard to get more investment to ensure the very highest standards of post-natal care – which is what women deserve.”