This week’s Saturday Story describes the very narrow escape this family had when their concerns over their baby’s health were ignored and dismissed by several health care professionals before a midwife finally listened to them and helped their baby.

It illustrates the urgent need for better education of all relevant health care professionals regarding the risk factors for late/insufficient milk production, the early signs of accidental starvation, and the increased risk of hospital readmissions under the current Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative protocols.

It also highlights the fact that these same protocols are robbing parents of choice, and denying them the accurate, unbiased information they need in order to make safe and appropriate parenting decisions.

From Mum B

“I was really excited about being pregnant. I expected to breastfeed my baby, because it’s natural and that’s what people did, I never even considered formula was an option.
My local hospital was signed up to the Baby Friendly Initiative, which sounded amazing. Who wouldn’t want to be Baby Friendly ?

The hospital provided a breastfeeding workshop, which I attended and learnt all about how much better breastmilk is than formula for our babies, free, convenient, a great bonding experience, would make them more intelligent, give us a lower risk of cancer etc. There didn’t seem to be any downsides. We were warned that it was important to exclusively breastfeed, that giving any formula at all would disrupt our supply and was unnecessary, and giving bottles in the first few months would cause nipple confusion, so wasn’t a good idea.
We were told we should feed as soon as possible after birth, have plenty of skin-to-skin time and always feed on demand.

We were warned to expect cluster feeding to build supply and that this wasn’t a sign of low supply but perfectly normal. It was presented as an opportunity to snuggle up on the sofa with a box set. We were shown how to hand-express using hilarious knitted boobs in lurid colours. The only possible problem mentioned was having too much milk, and the solution offered was to donate it to the hospital’s NICU. I came away from the workshop reassured that the only problem we might encounter was too much milk.

My pregnancy was uneventful until I was unexpectedly diagnosed with gestational diabetes at 32 weeks. This meant going on a very restricted diet to prevent my baby growing too big. A lot of emphasis was placed on the importance of breastfeeding to regulate both of our blood sugars. No mention was made that actually having diabetes could itself affect milk supply. The limited diet meant I lost weight – my bump got bigger and bigger, but the rest of me shrank.

I was induced at 38 weeks due to the diabetes. By the time my baby was born I was on three drips, had pre-eclampsia, developed an infection and had a haemorrhage. No mention was made that any of these factors could delay milk coming in. As per my birth plan, my baby was immediately placed on my chest and I first breastfed her when she was ten minutes old. We stayed in hospital for three nights, to have our blood sugars checked and we were both on antibiotics for infections.

I tried to do skin-to-skin as much as possible and to feed my baby on demand, but the postnatal ward was very noisy (six women and six babies sharing a room) and crowds of visitors allowed in, it was impossible to rest and there was little privacy. Each time I fed my daughter I rang the buzzer to get a midwife to come and check the latch was OK – but the advice wasn’t consistent and the staff didn’t really have time to help. On day 3 I insisted she was checked by the infant feeding team and a severe tongue-tie was diagnosed, which was snipped the same day. No one mentioned that, as she hadn’t been effectively latched on until then, she wouldn’t have been stimulating my milk supply.

At home, on her third night, I fed and fed her all night long. She cried if I stopped but never seemed contented. I presumed this was cluster feeding but it wasn’t snuggly and cosy, it felt like hell. Her nappies didn’t seem to be wet or dirty like they were meant to be. On day 4 a midwife turned up for the post discharge visit.
She dismissed my concerns about the nappies as “new mothers don’t know what wet nappies are like” and just said my baby was cluster feeding.
The fourth night consisted of more non-stop feeding and more crying if I stopped.
In the early hours I was so exhausted I fell asleep in a chair and dropped my baby…fortunately I came to and grabbed her just before she hit the floor.
This totally unnerved me and my husband. I rang the midwife helpline and explained the feeding all night and the lack of wet nappies. The midwife said it was just cluster feeding and suggested I try hand-expressing, but my breasts were soft and droopy, there was nothing there.
We felt absolutely desperate – all of our instincts said that our baby was hungry and this wasn’t working, but we’d been told that giving formula was a really bad thing to do. In the end we decided to get some formula, and my husband rushed to the shops, and came back with a ready-made bottle. He gave our daughter some, she sucked a small amount, and instantly fell into a relieved sleep.

Later on that day another midwife came to do the day 5 home visit. This midwife was different, more experienced and very concerned when we told her about the nappies and the non-stop feeding.
We discovered that our baby had lost 13% of her birth weight. We had to return to the hospital as soon as possible to be admitted to the SCBU.
I was really upset at the thought of returning to the maternity unit where I had been really unhappy on postnatal.

In SCBU a blood sample showed that our baby was severely dehydrated with very high sodium levels (hypernatraemic dehydration) and needed to be tube fed formula to prevent brain damage and even save her life.

Later on I would overhear other women being admitted with seriously dehydrated babies to SCBU, who were very distressed at the idea of their babies being given formula because they had been told it would damage the gut and they wanted them to have exclusively breastmilk.

They, like me, seemed totally unaware that exclusive breastfeeding could have made their babies seriously ill.

In SCBU I cycled between breastfeeding, pumping and topping up with formula. It was exhausting as there was little time to do anything other than feed and pump, and was only possible because I had a hospital bed next to the crib and all my meals were delivered to it. I didn’t seem to be making much milk but within a couple of days my daughter was stronger and able to suck from a bottle rather than being tube fed. Once her sodium levels stabilised we were able to go home.

This experience knocked me for six. I thought milk delay and low milk supply were incredibly rare. I thought most women breastfed, and had had no idea that breastfeeding rates in the UK are actually really low. I felt like a total failure because it hadn’t worked for me, despite doing all the things I was told about at the workshop.

For eight weeks I carried on putting my daughter to my breast whenever she was hungry, and topping up with formula. Suddenly, at eight weeks, my milk came in and I could then decrease the amount of formula. I refused to give up formula feeding completely though, as I needed the reassurance of seeing the milk go in, plus I enjoyed looking into her eyes whilst I gave her a bottle, it helped us bond in a way that breastfeeding never did.
Despite all that I’d been told at the workshop, my daughter happily swapped between bottle and breast for her whole first year, and still breastfeeds at 27 months.

The reality of my breastfeeding experience compared to what I’d been led to believe made me develop post-natal depression. I had also had my choice removed – if I’d known there was any possibility we would be using formula I could have researched formula and bottles in advance, rather than ending up with an emergency and grabbing the first that came to hand.

The hospital’s refusal to engage with formula feeding at all meant it was impossible to get information about safe sterilising of bottles and I was given contradictory advice by the midwives – I ended up with four copies of the NHS breastfeeding booklet, but had to beg a copy of the bottle feeding one from a health visitor, who was very reluctant to hand it over.

I have encountered so many women at baby groups with similar experiences – the promotion of breastfeeding didn’t match up with what actually happened to them.
So much money is wasted in promotion, with poor and inconsistent support then provided afterwards.
So much money is wasted with unnecessary hospital visits which could have been prevented with a small amount of formula in the first week of life.
The promotion of exclusive breastfeeding above any breastfeeding at all means many women can’t access support so give up breastfeeding completely – many exclusive breastfeeders think you haven’t tried hard enough if you give formula, and are often nasty about this.
Denying parents access to information about safe formula feeding isn’t going to encourage them to breastfeed, it will simply make babies ill.”

What are your thoughts on this couples experience ?
Have you been in a similar situation, or felt your concerns were being dismissed ?
Have your instincts told you one thing, but health professionals told you another ?
Let us know in the comments below x

Further articles you may find interesting
Know Your Risks For Delayed Onset Of Milk
What is ‘Cluster Feeding’ and is it Normal
The Second Night Syndrome is Abnormal and This is Why