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‘You don’t appreciate what a challenge it can be’ - Suffolk mums reveal vastly differing experiences as new Breastfeeding Network group launches at Suffolk Babies in Kesgrave

PUBLISHED: 12:35 24 February 2017 | UPDATED: 15:02 24 February 2017

Eight-month old Violet and her mum Faye attended the new Breastfeeding Network group at Suffolk babies to support other mums interested in breastfeeding. Picture: RUTH LEACH

Eight-month old Violet and her mum Faye attended the new Breastfeeding Network group at Suffolk babies to support other mums interested in breastfeeding. Picture: RUTH LEACH

It seems like the most natural thing in the world – a biological reflex as innate as motherhood itself.

Xander, aged  15 months, enjoyed socialising with other babies while his mum discussed breastfeeding with some of the new members of the group. Picture: RUTH LEACHXander, aged 15 months, enjoyed socialising with other babies while his mum discussed breastfeeding with some of the new members of the group. Picture: RUTH LEACH

But for many Suffolk mums, the reality of breastfeeding can be far more challenging than imagined.

While some take to it instantly, others, responding to our online survey, have highlighted long and painful struggles, sometimes fraught with anxiety, heartache or guilt. In more than 150 accounts, a range of vastly differing experiences has emerged.

Some said breastfeeding was a “lovely bonding experience” offering “immense” benefits, while others said it was the “hardest thing”, causing stress, depression and sleepless nights.

Many said feeding had been painful, with bleeding, blisters and mastitis. For some, there were challenges dealing with the stigma of breastfeeding in public.

Mum Emily and daughter Elsie have a cuddle with baby Monty while he is feeding at the group. Picture: RUTH LEACHMum Emily and daughter Elsie have a cuddle with baby Monty while he is feeding at the group. Picture: RUTH LEACH

To support mums through this process, health leaders say they promote the benefits of breastfeeding – both physical and emotional – to help parents make an informed decision about feeding their baby.

And for many of the mums responding to our survey, the support from midwives, health visitors and GPs, was said to have been “brilliant”. Others, however, claim they were “bullied and harassed” or made to feel like a “failing mother” because they struggled to breastfeed.

For those seeking extra help, whether due to difficulties breastfeeding or just to meet other mums and share experiences, a number of support groups are available in Suffolk and online.

The latest of these, organised by the Breastfeeding Network (BfN), launched this week at the Suffolk Babies centre in Kesgrave.

Anna Staunton, who sought support from BfN when breastfeeding her daughters, attended Wednesday’s launch to advocate its benefits to other mums. She had faced difficulties with both her babies, but said the support offered by BfN’s Emma Cracknell had been “fantastic”.

“When I had my first child, I thought breastfeeding should be the most natural thing in the world to do,” she said. “I soon found out, however, that it can actually be quite a struggle to begin with. You don’t appreciate what a challenge it can be.”

“Through my health visitor, I contacted Emma, and with her help we turned a corner and the breastfeeding just took off. It made an enormous difference to have had that support and advice. So when I heard on Facebook they were setting up a group on this side of town, I was really pleased.

“Even though Emma had already managed to help me, I think it’s so important for other mums to know that they’re not going through their breastfeeding struggle alone. There are a lot of mums who just need a little help.”

Romi, 9 months, seemed pleased to attend the breastfeeding group launch. Picture: RUTH LEACHRomi, 9 months, seemed pleased to attend the breastfeeding group launch. Picture: RUTH LEACH

The 36-year-old primary school teacher, who lives in Kesgrave, said the help had ranged from advice with breastfeeding techniques to emotional support.

Despite struggling to begin with, Mrs Staunton went on to breastfeed her eldest daughter, Cleo, for more than two years.

The BfN, which runs support groups across the country, as well as a helpline, aims for a “society where mums and families are able to make informed decisions about breastfeeding, to access help when they need it and to become confident in their choices”.

Ms Cracknell said 54 mums had attended the launch event, which had been “very well received”.

Emma Cracknell explains some of the different breastfeeding techniques. Picture: RUTH LEACHEmma Cracknell explains some of the different breastfeeding techniques. Picture: RUTH LEACH

“At a time when many breastfeeding services across the country are seeing cuts, and many mums desperately struggle to find the support they need, a new group like this one should be really celebrated and promoted to new parents,” she added.

“As an organisation BfN try to stay away from arguments around infant feeding - we are here for all mums and will provide non judgemental, non pressurised, evidence based, independent, mother centred breastfeeding information and support who whoever needs it and whatever their breastfeeding goals are.

“For us, breastfeeding is simply the normal way to feed a baby - we don’t say ‘breast is best’ or get involved in articles that put mothers up against each other. We are all about mums supporting mums.”

Jo Cresdee, director of Suffolk Babies, said: “We are just delighted to be working with BfN and for them to have chosen to have their new group with us.”

Many of the BfN groups are in areas of deprivation, where breastfeeding rates are lower.

Across Suffolk and Essex, the proportion of mothers who breastfeed after birth is higher than the national average (74%), although there are significant variations throughout the region. Government figures show that while more than 90% of mothers choose to breastfeed in Aldeburgh, fewer than half of those in parts of Ipswich do. By six to eight weeks, however, breastfeeding rates decline significantly. In Suffolk the average is 47% compared with 45.2% in Essex and a nationwide figure of 44.7%.

The new free-to-access group sessions will run on term-time Wednesdays from 10am-noon at Suffolk Babies, Unit 7, Grange Business Centre. Visit www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk for more information. Or call the helpine on 0300 100 0212 from 9.30am-9.30pm.

Kesgrave mum Anna Staunton with daughters Cleo and Flora. Picture: ANNA STAUNTONKesgrave mum Anna Staunton with daughters Cleo and Flora. Picture: ANNA STAUNTON

Health staff help mothers make ‘informed decisions’

The maternity unit at Ipswich Hospital was awarded “Baby Friendly” status for its high standard of care in December.

Linda Page, breastfeeding coordinator at Ipswich HospitalLinda Page, breastfeeding coordinator at Ipswich Hospital

Linda Page, breastfeeding co-ordinator at the hospital said staff helped new mothers make informed decisions about feeding their baby, and delivered care to support that choice. She said breastfeeding could protect against illnesses as well as allergies and diabetes.

“However, it isn’t always easy and lots of new mothers need support,” she added.

“Trained breastfeeding supporters regularly visit our wards and will give help to new mums to get breastfeeding off to a good start, while we also give women details of support groups and helplines when they are discharged.”

Tony Goldson, cabinet member for health at Suffolk County Council said it would be launching a “Breastfeeding Suffolk” app to support mothers. He said services had also been working towards UNICEF accreditation.

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