Comments for health professionals

When asked what they would like to say to health professionals, the women we spoke to overwhelmingly said they would urge them to give support, encouragement and reassurance without creating pressure or guilt. They remembered, with fondness and gratitude, those who were able to do this but were critical of those who were not.

Many women emphasised that it was important for health professionals to listen to what they were saying, to respect a woman's right to choose what is right for her and her baby and to support her in that decision. One woman said that “where things have gone wrong it is when people have heard what they wanted to hear, rather than what I was actually saying” and another said “nobody's listening to what I'm saying, I can't do this anymore, it's just too painful”. Many said that the health professional support they needed was not always about giving advice but often about spending time with them, having empathy and a sympathetic ear (see 'Getting support for breastfeeding').

One of the biggest areas of concern involved issues around knowledge about breastfeeding. Firstly, several women thought that health professionals had a different focus on breastfeeding from themselves (see 'Monitoring baby's growth') in that they:

  • had practice guidelines to follow and they needed to ensure that they followed them to the letter in order to protect themselves from things going wrong at a later stage,
  • were involved in the early days of breastfeeding and not so concerned about the longer term consequences of their actions,
  • sometimes said that breastfeeding was best but perhaps did not really believe that or have confidence in it,
  • either had no personal experience of breastfeeding (which sometimes made it difficult for them to understand how women felt) or, if they did, drew too much or inappropriately upon their own experiences in advising women without giving enough recognition to the fact that each person's experiences, emotions and needs were different,
  • were far too heavily focused upon weight gain as a measure of their baby's growth and development and therefore were too quick to recommend infant formula and,
  • were reluctant to acknowledge when they did not know and to refer them to the appropriate person who did.

Secondly, many women mentioned receiving conflicting advice and lack of continuity in their care from their health professionals. Some thought that health professionals should “all sing from the same hymn sheet”. Others felt that consistency was important but also realised that there were many different ways to assist with breastfeeding situations and that no two mother and baby pairs were the same. Thus, flexibility and tailoring advice to individuals was essential. A few said that they were bombarded with too much advice and information. Several said that they thought it was important for them to find one person, who might or might not be a health professional, whom they respected and trusted and then to rely on their support and advice (see Interview 25 above).

Thirdly, many women questioned the training about breastfeeding that their health professionals had received. There was almost universal praise for the knowledge of lactation consultants (health professionals with highly specific expertise in breastfeeding support) and lay breastfeeding counsellors (women with personal experience and in-depth knowledge of breastfeeding). Several women suggested that there should be lactation consultants on all postnatal wards and that all women should be seen by a lactation consultant in the early days in order to prevent, identify and assist with problems before they become too difficult. Some of the women we spoke to were trained professionals themselves (such as midwives, pharmacists, doctors and a nanny) and several were critical of their own training in breastfeeding saying that what they had received was very basic or even inappropriate.

Many women talked about what they perceived to be a lack of resources for health professionals to enable them to do their job. They spoke of busy postnatal wards where staff members did not have the time to give the help and support that they requested. A few made a plea to save birthing units where they received more personalised and individual care. They spoke of under-funded breastfeeding clinics with lactation consultants run off their feet trying to assist the women who required their help.

Last reviewed November 2018.


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