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And The Biggest Breastfeeding Obstacle Of All Is...Bad Advice!

For the past few weeks I've been trying to put together a post for World Breastfeeding Week about the various obstacles that women have overcome in order to breastfeed. I had a vision that I could somehow catalogue the stories in a series of posts so that they could be easily found in Google by others with the same issue or struggle. I've been asking you to send me your stories, and as I've been reading them, my original idea for the post has been eclipsed by what seems to me to be a far bigger and more pressing concern. Because what's emerging from your stories is that, whilst many women have various initial difficulties getting breastfeeding established, the most common and recurring theme, and no doubt the great big problem that's making breastfeeding difficult or even impossible for many women is simply a shocking level of ill informed, outdated and downright bad advice, often from the very professionals who are supposed to be helping and promoting breastfeeding!

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 If you have received non evidence based, ill informed, outdated, bad advice from a professional, please tell us about it in the comments below.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 ManI 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 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, UKOut 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!!!!



  1. "your baby is too skinny you need to switch her to formula" I didn't so I was then told this, bare in mind she was following a perfect curve and meeting milestones 2-3 months in advance of her actual age, "we'll be referring this case to social services if you don't switch to full formula feeding" my response what, what case? I'd had no idea there was a case. After my son was born (2nd child) "you can't sustain pumping, give it up and bottle feed" that was after I'd been pumping a week and a half, I pumped and cup fed exclusively for 3 weeks solid until my son learnt to relatch and feed from me. I've had "everyone gives up breastfeeding at 6 weeks/ 3 months/ 5 months/ 6 months because it's got no nutritional value once you introduce solids." I've also been told by a random at the doctors "breast milk can't compete with the advancement of formula, there's no point even trying" I put her straight I can tell you.

  2. 1. My daughter was born in the hospital at 4:30am and I breastfed at 5am. The nurses told me I have to breastfeed every two hours. I fell asleep. At about 7am I woke up to see my daughter calling for milk from small glassy "bed" which was just much too high for me to reach - I was too exhausted simply to get up and she was lying so high. I did my best, I really tried to get up, I remember it very clearly, but I don't know what happened afterwards. The nurses woke me up at 1pm to ask if I gave milk to my baby. I answered "no" and they said "Do you want to starve your own child?" I was blocked. I gave no answer. Woman after birth (at least me) is exhausted and "defenceless".

    2. First and second day I was breastfeeding as my daughter wanted. Every breastfeeding lasted only 5 minutes. There were many nurses (lactation specialists???) who came to me. Every time it was another woman. I asked the first one if it's ok that S. eats so short. She said it can be dangarous, she may loose her weight. It scared me. I really didn't want to formula feed so I started to secretly give my breastmilk with the spoon while she slept (I did it only two or three times and took milk manually, without using breast pump). Next nurse (I didn't tell her my secret about feeding with the spoon) knowing that S. has short eating sessions came with the formula in syringe and WITHOUT REALLY ASKING ME gave it to my child I protested but she managed to squize it completely to the mouth of my complaining child! On the third day my breasts were overfilled and the nurse brought me manual breast pump and told me to pomp for 15 minutes!!! After 5 minutes the container was full. I brought back the pump and showed her the amount of milk. She said that I exagerated and I must have pomped the milk much longer than 15min! We had to stay in the hospital for four days because they wanted to observe my child (for other reason than eating, but finally it was all righ too), so the nurses had time enough to come with some more "discouraging" ideas, e.g. that there is not enough milk in my breasts and that's the reason why she stops eating after 5 minutes. Luckily, on the last day there came another nurse. I also told her about my "problem". She delicately pressed my breast and three streams of milk shot on her and didn't want to stop ;) She said: "Everything is more than perfect with you and the baby. You have so much milk that you could feed all the newborns in the hospital! Your daughter eats so short because it's enough for her". Thanks God for that woman! If not she I would live in constant stress that there is sth wrong with my breasts or my child and... stress can decrease milk production... Only one on about ten specialists gave a good advice!

  3. This is absolutely disgraceful. Thankyou for writing this post and for letting my experience be included in it. In a strange way it is comforting that other women have experienced similar problems but it is very upsetting that so many women are unsupported in their feeding and other childcare choices. Lets hope that we can bring about a change.

  4. I should add that two gincologists told me that breastfeeding after six months is dangerous for the woman's health: tha child completely "sucs out" the calcium of the bones and the teeth of mother. I must say my child is now two years and a half, I'm still breastfeeding and my bones and teeth are perfectly all right!

  5. In addition to being advised to give baby rice at 4 months, before my son could even sit properly; my health visitor also suggested that Wotsits and Digestive biscuits were ideal first finger foods!

  6. When my daughter was born she struggled to latch. Rather than anybody give me any help, they whisked her away on day 2 and gave her formula. At 10 days because she still wasn't back to her birth weight (although she was steadily gaining, albeit slowly) I was told I needed to give formula top-ups. Nobody ever checked for a tongue-tie.

    When she was 9 months I went to my GP with suspected nipple thrush. He wasn't interested in prescribing me anything and told me that "sometimes BFing just runs its course." Needless to say I didn't leave his office without a prescription for both me and baby!

    And finally when she was 11 months, we took her to the out of hours GP with a nasty bout of D&V. He advised me that I should STOP feeding for the duration of her illness as BM would make her worse, and should give her watered down lemonade. Needless to say I ignored this advice, carried on BFing as per proper guidelines and she was over the worst in a day.

  7. I'm currently struggling with BF as a result of poor advice. My daughter didn't feed well until day three after birth so on day two I pumped for 20 minutes every 2 hours for 24 hours to build supply. My daughter was readmitted to hospital on day 5 with 11% loss of weight and diagnosed with a suspected urine infection. We remained in hospital for a further 5 days. Throughout this time I fought hard to prevent several professionals giving my baby formula. I also had 3 lactation specialists check my latch and positioning - all claimed there was no problem here. Despite my best efforts (and a nasty bout of mastitis) My daughter continued to lose weight so by her 3rd week I was told I had to supplement with formula. I begged for an alternative because I really didn't want to give formula and I was told what I wanted wasn't important, I had to do what was best for my baby and the fat content of my milk was obviously not sufficient to nourish my child.

    So I supplemented, and after a week my health visitor (who is far too professional to undermine a colleague) frowned at the advice I had been given and told me I could stop giving formula and re-establish full time BF. I have since been trying to wean my daughter off formula but felt a real lack of confidence in my ability to do so. Luckily, I have a friend who is a peer councillor for BF and although she doesn't live close enough to visit she has assured me that my milk will nourish my child, given me advice about single breast feeds to ensure hind milk is received at every feed and has built my confidence back up. I have hired a hospital grade breast pump and have cut the formula to only 2 3oz top-ups in just 2 days. My daughter is 12 weeks old today and by 13 weeks she will be exclusively breast fed again!

  8. Gem UK- I got a case of thrush in my boobs which I passed onto to my baby boy at 2 weeks, then mastitis. As I'm allergic to Penicillin, doc gave me other anti biotics ( which I didn't want) and was told I can't breast feed on these so stop breast feeding for 10 days, express milk & throw away then start breast feeding again once course finished! Ummm, no. I fed through it, and felt better within a few days.

  9. When my second child was four months we both were suffering from illness (feeling awful, exhasuted, fluey, feverish etc). I was informed by a GP (not mine) that I was unable to make enough milk to satisfy both our needs and that if I continued both he and I would really suffer. SO i stopped feeding instantly, not wanting to "harm" my child. I was told to give him formula AND jars of food as he was such a BIG BOY (it didnt occur to me in my vulnerable state that he wouldmt have beena BIG BOY if my milk had been insufficient or damaging!!). My son now has lots of food allergies.... I dont know that he woudlnt have had them had I ignored the advice, but its always at the back of my mind. I think it is hard to have advice from health professionals with no children/ no experience of natural methods. They dont have the advice to give. I definitly feel on my fourth pregnancy that I know more than the majority of my health providers when it comes to labour, bfeeding and particularly MY children and MY body!

  10. My local PCT sends our Health Visitors on regular training with regards to breastfeeding so it is improving here. They are also checked up on the advice they are giving out by their managers who attend our local support groups to ask Mums about the advice they have been given.

    I was given shocking advice by a midwife a couple of years ago who told me NOT to feed my 7 mth old son when I had the Norovirus. subsequently my milk disappeared and I was lucky to avoid mastitis.

  11. I was advised by my midwife when my son was just eight days old that he seemed awfully hungry and I should top up with formula to avoid him being "constantly attached to the breast". I, devastated, booked an appointment with my GP who told me absolutely NOT to top up with formula because that would mess with my supply and was nowhere near as good for him as my milk. She told me she breastfed her three children and that baby being "constantly attached" in the first couple of weeks is NORMAL as they learn to feed efficiently, get your supply up, and comfort themselves through all the new sensations now they are out of the womb. She suggested a lactation consultant, saying that neither she (as a GP) or the midwife were the experts. I took the information home and planned on booking to see a lactation consultant or at least a Peer Supporter. In the meantime, I had my first appointment with my Health Visitor, an older lady who assured me she's been in the healthcare profession for 30 years. I told her what my midwife and GP had both said. She told me that Baby's weight was good, so there was nothing to worry about - but she recommended I start expressing bottles and start leaving him with grandparents, preferably overnight, ASAP to "get him used to it" and break the "habit" of being permanently attached to the breast (bear in mind my child by this point was still less than two weeks old). She also said I should start using a dummy immediately or he would carry on using me as a "human dummy" and I would never get a moment to myself. She even said that it was good I was breastfeeding but not to let breastfeeding get in the way of my marriage. She said that expressing bottles and feeding formulas were both good ways to get my life back. Needless to say, I listened to none of that and persevered with breastfeeding. Later, when my baby was four or five months old, the health visitor (a different one this time) told me to start refusing feeds and letting my baby cry so that he would take a cup. Yeah, that didn't happen either.

    I am so glad that I didn't listen to them, and greatful to the GP, who made me feel less guilty and incompetent in the very early days. I exclusively breastfed my son for six months extremely successfully, and am still breastfeeding (alongside solid foods) at thirteen months. I'm also looking into becoming a Peer Supporter so that my experience can hopefully help other breastfeeding Mums in the future.

  12. From my MIL- 15 mins on each side for feeding.

    From my ped- she's not up to birth weight so we need her to get formula (3 days after being born)

    Family- She's crying and since you've been feeding for so long , maybe youre not making enough milk so use formula

    Ped- Use a pump to see how much milk you're making (only got 2 oz) oh you're not producing enough, supplement

  13. Oh My God! I cannot believe at the amount of bad advice that is out there! And I am forever grateful for my supportive family and health-care professionals I have seen so far.
    The only incidents I can recall are much less extreme than quoted above.
    I went to see my GP to get my contraceptives prescription. I was told that now that my daughter is 15 months I should get her on formula, because 'in this society there are alternatives to breastfeeding and it is especially good if she is allergic to milk' (mhm. How exactly is giving milk good for a baby allergic to milk I don't know).
    A 3-page long letter to the practice manager followed and next time I went to see a GP (albeit a different one) he only expressed a mild surprise that I am still feeding my daughter (who was with me at this visit and who does look older than her 21 months, but not older than the age to which I am prepared to breastfeed ;)). He wanted to give me 3 months worth of a prescription, but I did say 'make it six, I don't think I will be done in 3 months' - and so he did.

    Oh, and recently I went to see a dentist and informed him I was breastfeeding my 21 month old daughter. He said '21 weeks - that's about 4-5 months? Come back in a month when you have weaned her' - Haha, his face when I said that he heard me wrong and I said 21 MONTHS was priceless. He didn't quite know what to say.

  14. When I went for the 8 month check with my son he'd fallen (fairly gradually) from the 50th to the 25th centile.

    I was still breastfeeding (and did until he was about 21 months) and the nurse who did the check suggested I breastfeed less and give him - not joking - more chocolate puddings to get his weight up.

  15. I don't have more knowledge on breast feeding but really like your post.
    child growth and development


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