Gill O’Connor, Infant Feeding and Breastfeeding Development Coordinator: 

Antenatal feeding choices

When a woman first becomes pregnant there so many choices to be made it can be bewildering. One of the most important decisions to be made is how to feed their baby.

Remember, it is never too early to think about feeding choices. Many new mothers struggle with the decision to breast or bottle feed their new baby. Parents get advice from friends, family, health professionals and the media and it can be very confusing. It is important to get evidence-based and factual information from sites such as Start4Life, UNICEF and First Steps Nutrition rather than sites which may have a particular bias or agenda. NHS Choices has some really good myth busters too which are helpful in aiding decision making.

It is important to consider all information and advice, but ultimately it is for the prospective parents to decide what it is right for them and their baby. Researching all the facts and listening to others may be helpful, but it’s worth noting that other peoples’ experiences are theirs – not yours, so reserve the right to make your own decision.

All parents will be offered the opportunity to attend antenatal classes where they can explore hopes and expectations of parenthood and, these classes will include information about feeding their baby. Health Visitors carry out an antenatal visit which offers another opportunity to discuss feeding options and obtain information.

In the UK, more than 73% of mothers choose to breastfeed. Here are some of the factors that influence their decision:

  • your breast milk is perfectly designed for your baby
  • breast milk helps protect your baby from infections and diseases
  • breastfeeding provides health benefits for you
  • breast milk is available for your baby whenever your baby needs it
  • breastfeeding can build a strong emotional bond between you and your baby
  • breast milk is free and convenient

 

There are very few women who are unable to breastfeed and in those cases this is often for medical reasons. Here at A Better Start we are looking at ways to improve services to families to help support mothers to breastfeed and enable them to continue for as long as they wish.

Sue Ashmore, Director of UNICEF states that: ‘For breastfeeding to work, you need someone to turn to who believes it’s important and believes you can do it’. For this reason it is essential that mothers feel comfortable to seek out those that will be supportive and offer encouragement when they are pregnant and after the baby is born, whether they be friends, family or professionals.

And remember, it’s against the law to stop a mother breastfeeding in a public place so, there’s no need to worry about that when you’re out and about with your new baby.

Here’s what some Southend mothers have told me about their recent experiences:

‘It is important to be aware of the common issues and pitfalls before the baby arrives. In those first few weeks you are too tired and emotional to think rationally about any of it!’

‘You have to be prepared that it can be hard mentally and physically in the early days. If I hadn’t been prepared then I would have been shocked.’

‘If you are bottle feeding then make sure you understand how to make up a bottle, sterilise and make bottles out and about – thank God for some lovely home visit midwives.’

‘I was so nervous about how bottle feeding would work in the hospital as I had heard awful stories of pressure to breastfeed and no bottle/sterilising facilities (but the hospital were absolutely amazing so this was no problem).’

Start4Life have produced a booklet that gives guidance about how to bottle feed safely and other useful information. They also have a breastfeeding guide too. Also remember that if you have any questions the health visiting team or midwife is available to offer advice.

In my experience, many mothers who have decided they probably will formula feed actually breastfeed once their baby is in their arms. Finally, although breastfeeding is natural, it is a learned art, so it is important to always ask for support and help if unsure at any point. There is no such thing as a silly question!

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