Breastfeeding may be the most natural but it’s a skill that takes time for mother and baby to master
They say breast is best - but while breastfeeding may be a natural part of life, it’s far from the easy option. Cracked nipples, blocked ducts and bad latch are just a few of the issues that exhausted new mums find themselves battling in those overwhelming first days of motherhood.
Add to that the second guessing - am I making enough milk? Is my baby eating enough? Will people comment if I feed my child in public? - and it’s no wonder that so many new mums opt for formula feeding over breastfeeding.
Well now a new team of South Yorkshire women is making it their mission to support and reassure new mums in the region, armed with a wealth of knowledge and their own personal experiences with breastfeeding.
The La Leche Peer Counsellors scheme was first launched in Barnsley back in 2006 to tackle flagging statistics, which put the town well below the national average in terms of women initially taking up breastfeeding.
Since the scheme began, 230 local mums have gone through the 12 week training programme to enable them to work one-on-one or in community settings with new mums in need of breastfeeding support. Today the initiation figure, 68 per cent, is closing the gap on the national average of 74 per cent - but there’s still work to be done.
The Department of Health currently recommends breastfeeding exclusively for six months and continuing for at least one year. Studies revealed that in 2014, only 23 per cent of women in the UK were making it to six weeks.
The team’s deputy supervisor, Anne Amott, said: “The initiation rate locally is climbing nicely, but we always knew this wasn’t something we would be able to fix overnight. We don’t live in a breastfeeding culture and many women - our mums, aunties and grandmothers - still believe in bottle feeding every three hours like clockwork, because that’s what they did.
“We now know that is not the way do it, but change takes time. The work we’re doing now is about feeding the next generation, so that by the time our children and grandchildren are having babies, breastfeeding will be more the norm. We’re training and empowering these women - all mums themselves - so that they can offer support at the school gate, at children’s centres, or one-to-one with friends.”
Eight new volunteers joined the team this week after completing the training, led by Barnsley Council’s Infant Feeding Team.
Anne added: “Breastfeeding is natural but it certainly isn’t easy or we wouldn’t be here. It’s a skill and, like any other skill, it takes time to master.”
Coun Jenny Platts, Barnsley’s Cabinet Spokesperson for Communities, said: “It’s fantastic that families are being offered support on breastfeeding. It’s so important that families are given the opportunity to share experiences, discuss concerns and gain confidence in breastfeeding.
“We’re aware that the training is a real commitment for mums with busy lives and really appreciate people taking the time.”
Angela Beaumont, Infant Feeding Team Supervisor, told The Star: “It’s great that women across Barnsley can access support and guidance from other local mums who have shared experiences of breastfeeding.
“Receiving mother to mother support has been shown to help women breastfeed for longer.”
New Barnsley peer counsellor Kaeren Harrison, aged 26, said: “I found breastfeeding quite easy to begin with and enjoyed feeding my daughter Lydia but, sadly, my grandma passed away when Lydia was four months old and my milk supply dried up.
“If I’d have known then what I know now, after doing the course, I would have persisted, but when you’re a new mum everything is so new and there are just so many questions.
“I really hope I can pass down what I’ve learned to other new mums and help somebody else make it through a tough time and keep on going.”
Fellow peer counsellor Claire Clarke, 31, revealed it was also a trauma early on in breastfeeding that inspired her to undertake the training: “I took to feeding initially, despite the pain, but it was when my daughter was 14 days old we had to take her into hospital because they felt she wasn’t gaining weight well. I felt horrible - like it was my fault because I wasn’t producing enough milk to feed my child. If I can arm myself with the knowledge to help even one other mum, it will all be worth it.”
For more information about the training or for advice on breastfeeding, contact the Infant Feeding Team on 01226 775700 or visit barnsley.gov.uk/ift