Feeding and caring for the baby

Infant feeding is an important and complex topic. Here we focus on what information about feeding and caring for the baby parents would have liked before and after the birth and how the reality compared to their expectations. You may also be interested in our breastfeeding section. 

Most people got some information from antenatal classes, but some felt the focus was too much on the birth itself and would have liked more about parenthood (see 'Antenatal classes and preparation'). However, some women thought there was a limit to how much they could learn until they had their own baby, including a young single parent who had plenty of childcare experience.

In some areas, postnatal classes offered advice on a range of childcare topics. Women also valued advice from midwives and health visitors, and from other mothers they talked to at baby clinics and mother and baby groups. They often worried about whether they were doing the right thing and needed reassurance, especially with a first baby.

Many women asked their family for advice, although occasionally it conflicted with professional advice and they had to decide which to follow. One woman's mother was too embarrassed to talk to her about breastfeeding, but she was convinced it was the best thing to do.

The reality of breastfeeding often differed from what people expected. One woman who found it much harder than she expected wondered if it would help to have more detailed information beforehand, or whether it would put people off. A breastfeeding counsellor from a support group encouraged her to keep trying.

Other people found breastfeeding easier than they expected after hearing stories about how difficult it would be, including a mother who had a few problems but was determined not to give up.

Another woman who had bottle fed her babies had since trained as a SureStart volunteer and learnt more about breastfeeding. She wished she had been given more information and encouragement at the time. Particularly with her second baby staff assumed she knew what she was doing and left her to it.

While some people thought midwives and health visitors should provide more support and encouragement for breastfeeding, especially with a first baby, others worried about women feeling they had to keep trying at all costs.

A mother whose baby was premature and spent five weeks in special care had wanted to breastfeed but felt staff unintentionally put pressure on her to keep trying. Another agreed that women should not torture themselves with guilt, but thought much of the pressure came from women's own expectations rather than from staff.

Views were mixed about the advice on baby care while in hospital. Some people who had to stay in hospital several days, for example after a caesarean, valued having extra time with midwives to learn how to bath the baby and get feeding established. Women recovering from a caesarean may need special help in finding a comfortable position for feeding. Others found it easier when they got home and felt more relaxed. A few had encountered staff who were unsympathetic or abrupt.

There were also mixed reactions to the midwives offering to look after the baby over night so the mother could get a good night's sleep - some mothers were relieved, but one mother was distressed and felt the midwife did not really understand her feelings.

Some women may have particular difficulties with breastfeeding, for example pain (see Interview 04), feeding constantly (see Interviews 15 and 12) or being concerned about the amount of milk being produced. One woman had not been aware that having an elective caesarean might affect her milk coming in, but she was happy to change to bottle feeding (including some expressed milk). (There is some research evidence that after a caesarean women may produce a smaller volume of milk during the first few postnatal days, but the reasons for this remain unclear).

Others had specific physical problems, for example women who had had breast surgery.

Babies who are born very early or need special care may also find it difficult to feed (see Interview 12 above and 'Looking back - preterm birth and special care').

See also our Breastfeeding section. 

Last reviewed May 2017.
Last updated May 2017.


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