Way back when I first started blogging I wrote this post about the notorious UK Health Visitors, and even wrote to my MP about them, who reassured me that they were planning to expand and improve the service. But recruiting more Health Visitors won't help breastfeeding mothers unless they stop giving out misinformation to the women in their care. And it's not just Health Visitors - I've heard some shocking tales of bad advice from UK Midwives and Doctors...and the problem isn't just UK based - bad advice is being dished out worldwide! Of course, not all Health Professionals are giving out advice that jeopardises breastfeeding, and some are excellent and provide invaluable support...but there are far too many stories of misinformation for these to be just isolated cases. Perhaps more worryingly, almost all of the stories come from women who have managed to keep breastfeeding going in spite of terrible advice...which leads me to assume that there are many more people out there who followed such advice and lost their chance to breastfeed as a result.
I thought I'd let your stories and comments speak for themselves. If you have received non evidence based, ill informed, outdated, bad advice from a professional, please tell us about it in the comments below. Please do not name names as this is not a personal vendetta. It is, however, a call to action for Health Professionals and policy makers alike: We need better training if we really want to improve breastfeeding rates. And a call to action to new mothers too...if you are struggling with breastfeeding - Pause, breathe, hold your baby skin to skin, and get a second opinion.
Naomi, Isle of Man: I went to my GP a while after my son was born because my breasts were still very sore - he advised me that I was engorged (despite me assuring him that I wasn't) and advised that I should express milk to relieve it. Lucky I knew better that expressing would just increase my milk supply... couldn't beleive that was his advice and neither could my midwife!!!! I was also offered a bottle of formula on my first night in the maternity ward as I was "having a hard time" to which I replied "Listen, unless my boobs actually fall off I'm doing this OK?" People who are having a hard time bfing need support not formula!!!!
Bec, UK: With my first I was threatened with social services if I didn't switch my baby to formula. their reason, she was only on the 25th percentile where she'd track above it and below it and generally followed a curve and was meeting milestones a number of month beyond her age. She was happy, healthy and had good output but because she wasn't on or above the 50th they freaked out. that was from 3 HV's and 2 nursery nurses. I ignored them and carried on breastfeeding.
Cheryl, UK: With my first at 4 months old, from Health Visitors - "just try him on a little bit of baby rice", "A baby never died from crying, just leave him a little longer each time, he needs to learn to fall asleep on his own", "He is on the bottom percentile, have you thought about supplementing with formula?" Regardless of all this advice I breastfed my son for two years.
Tanya, UK: My Health Visitor told me I didn't look like the type to breastfeed - because ordinary looking mums don't right? A Midwife told a friend of mine who was struggling to latch baby on in the early days to stop cup feeding because baby needs to learn to suck so a bottle must be better - epic fail!
Jessica, Canada: At two week check the doctor said: "If you don't get him on a three hour feeding schedule he'll get fat; and no one wants a fat baby. And if he's fed and dry put him down, if you hold him all the time he'll never let you put him down and you'll never get anything done at home. I know cuddling feels good but you don't want to spoil your baby." We continued to do as we pleased feeding on demand and cuddling him whenever we felt like it :)
Catherine, UK: I was told to begin weaning my breastfed baby at 11 weeks because my milk wasn't enough for her. I was asked by the same Health Visitor why, at 18 weeks I was still breastfeeding? I was informed, without having asked, that formula milk "wasn't that bad" and that I should 'top her up' with formula because she wasn't sleeping for 12 straight hours like 'normal babies should'. I am still happily breastfeeding my 8 month old WITHOUT advice from the HV's!
Claudia, USA: In hospital...'let us top up at night so that you can get some sleep.' 'We will use a cup to prevent nipple confusion'....right, what about demand being important for establishing supply? But my absolute favourite was when I was called as a physio to maternity and asked by a nurse to do ultrasound on a women to help relieve engorgement..and was told that I was being difficult because I refused to help even though ultrasound would do absolutely nothing. The nurse didn't think feeding on demand or expressing a little under a shower to relieve the pressure would do anything. Sad thing was that the mom believed it all...baby couldn't be hungry because he had been fed recently. I bumped into the mother a few weeks later in the shops and she was formula feeding due to poor supply:(
Lynne, UK: Out of hours GP: 'why are you not giving your baby boiled water?? ALL children need water' when my baby was colicky and fretful, probably because he was impatient waiting for supply to catch up with demand. Hospital midwife: 'that latch is fine' - baby was actually tongue tied and almost destroyed my left nipple. A less pig headed mother may have given up as the pain was excruciating.
Anne, UK: My first health visitor told me to stop breastfeeding at six months. My second health visitor tried to get my child removed from my care because she said he was failing to thrive and I refused to supplement with formula (a second opinion confirmed my belief that he was actually fine).
Clare, UK: I was given the old squash and post advice in hospital by about four different healthcare assistants. "Shape it like a nice hamburger and then you've got to push his face into it." Lovely. It was about three weeks before I could feed him without crying because of the pain. I had Reynaud's, which no-one recognised until an Australian lactation consultant read about my struggles on my blog. We persevered, and we're still going strong 19 months later.
Claire, UK: I was told not to breastfeed my second child as my first was extremly lactose intolerant - I ignored the doctor and went on a dairy free diet myself while breast feeding (the least i could do) and then after about 8 months slowly introduced dairy back into my diet and then his after 12 months - he was fine and has no side effects from dairy :)
Fiona, UK: Various unhelpful comments from my Health Visitor, e.g., 'what's a tongue tie?' 'Can't be a tongue tie because your husband just told me he had seen him poke his tongue out before (even though five minutes ago I had no idea what a tongue tie was!!!!)' 'you must be overfeeding him' 'space out your feeds a few more hours' 'perservere with putting him down even if he cries as he needs to learn'.
Adele, UK: Where do I begin? A GP told me to eat butter. Another told me never to breastfeeding less than three hours apart. Midwife said I had too much milk when actually my daughter wasn't getting enough because of her tongue-tie. Something like six different health care professionals told me emphatically that she didn't have a tongue-tie and that it wouldn't make a difference anyway. Self-referred and turned out that was the reason my baby's weight was static for weeks.
Aitche, USA: Paediatric receptionist (loved our paediatrician though) in Philadelphia PA told me my 22lb 5 month old was "too fat for breastmilk", that I should wean her so she didn't "become obese". I did not listen.
Jemma, UK: GP, when both my daughter and myself had thrush, she told me that it must hurt ( well obviously) and to FF which would help relieve the pain. And when pregnant with baby number 2, my midwife told me I had to stop feeding my first daughter or 'the baby would not grow right.'
Melanie, Australia: Maternal and Child Health Nurse (community health nurse) told me that at 12 months I needed to limit my son's breastfeeds to twice daily, because that was what was recommended for cow's milk (2 x 200ml serves per day). She gave me the photocopied handout, and said that because his breastfeeds were equivalent to cows milk, that he should only have two feeds per day. Luckily I knew better and ignored her!Amanda, UK: With my first baby a health visitor told me that a breast feed should last 20 minutes at the most -to offer my daughter a dummy after this time to satisfy her need to suck. Oh, and to supplement with a formula feed at bedtime... No wonder why my milk supply was reduced by then?! Luckily my daughter (literally) spat the dummy after a few days and I managed to express to build my supply - the only useful advice in GIna Fords book! Looking back I realise this advice was given during the 6 week growth spurt and it took a long time for my supply to catch up with my baby's demands. Feeding on demand for my next 2 daughters has been much less complicated - they didn't even lose weight in the week after birth! I feel passionately that something needs to be done to change breastfeeding support in this country. In my experience it's pretty poor.
Enid, UK: My first health visitor, over 30 years ago, advised me to stop breast feeding when my son was 3 months old as I had a tummy upset. When I listened to her advice lots of problems happened: mastitis, etc and had to give up feeing my son. My GP and consultant later told me it would have been fine to continue. With my daughter I fed her until she was 2 and a half: a joyful experience for us both!
Bianca, USA: My experience was with a nurse at the hospital shortly after I gave birth (Miami, FL). She told me that my son should be nursing for AT LEAST 10 minutes per side, both sides every time, and if he didn't start nursing longer, we'd have to supplement. I read up on breastfeeding before giving birth, so I knew that a. it was normal and b. I didn't want to supplement. My husband and I wrote in times that would satisfy that nurse so that we didn't have to battle with her every time. Nearly 18 months later, our son still nurses like a champ! :)
Jane, UK: Doctor told me to feed ten minutes on each side then give formula.
Jennifer, Canada: I was at the OBGYN's office to get a refill prescription of the birth control pill that is safe for breastfeeding women. The doctor told me "You're daughter is already 13 months, there's really no point in breastfeeding anymore, I could just prescribe you a regular birth control pill." I had never been more shocked or offended, by both the untrue advice coming from a medical professional and that medical professional's complete disregard for my needs. Needless to say, I took the prescription *I* requested and continued to breastfeed until my daughter weaned herself at 23 months (I was hoping to go longer).
Hazel, UK: I've been told 'stop feeding on that side now, it will have run out!'. (midwife) 'don't feed your day old baby more than every two hours, give her cooled boiled water if she cries in between' (mw #2). And 'if your baby's weight doesn't go up more than this next week, you'll have to start her on solids' (HV when 12 week old had one single blip of just a two ounce weight gain that week after a beautiful curve up til then). All of these are a little over a decade ago. Of course things will now have changed and be perfectly supportive ;-).
Maria, USA: I went to my first pediatric visit and my pediatrician told me that the baby had lost too much weight and that I needed to give him formula. I explained I wanted to breastfeed. He said that I was harming my baby and that I needed to stop being selfish and do what was right for him. I asked for a referral to a lactation consultant, he said that was a crock.
Lissette, USA: A nurse at the hospital i gave birth at said some babys never latch on and just need to go on formula ... Not true!!!!