“Are you still breastfeeding”?
“I didn’t think they would be breastfeeding that much still”
Just a couple of things said to me when explaining the MumPod®.
This is probably less about ignorance and more about the lack of discussion and strategy around the breastfeeding beyond the early weeks. This is highlighted by the fact that the NHS does not collect or report data beyond 6-8 weeks. It is all too common that I hear about mums being congratulated by their health visitor. Yet they are trained to support exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, along with other foods and fluids up to 12 months then to continue for 2 years or beyond. This sentiment comes from a good place, but the underlying message is that it is the exception rather than the rule that breastfeeding will continue after those early weeks.
Unless this is talked about more, integrated into our everyday life, press, and media the needs of the breastfeeding parent beyond these early weeks are not seen, their needs not considered, and it is not perceived as a societal norm.
When I specialised as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) I knew I wanted to make a difference but it became clear the difference I wanted to make was not relaying the training being rolled out across the NHS. Not that this isn’t a robust curriculum developed by UNICEF’s Baby Friendly Initiative but that I wanted to fill a gap where the longevity of breastfeeding was not provided for. I have a diverse background that brought me to this point, starting in design, moving into the corporate world, losing my job when pregnant with my fourth child and retraining to become a midwife, in addition to 27 years as a working mother. This gives me a unique insight into the needs of the mother in the workplace and the impact this can have on their breastfeeding goals.
I recently listened to the comedian Ellie Taylor’s book My child and other Mistakes where she relays the choices of pumping while at work. For her she had to take work when it came, and this meant being away from her young 3 month old baby. She noted that the only private space to pump was the toilet but she was happy to pump anywhere, as she should. Not all mothers however feel comfortable do so, with the unsubtle ergghh ergghh ergghh of the pump suction ringing out whilst trying to be discreet.
The majority of working mothers have up to 12 months maternity leave, for many though this is unaffordable, and they may only take 6 months. Research shows us that 1 in 8 breastfeeding mothers feel they have to give up breastfeeding if they are going back to work. Therefore, there are a lot of babies being deprived of the health benefits their parents have chosen to give and those that benefit the breastfeeding parent. With good information sharing and open conversations that staff are comfortable having this can change. This isn’t about making parents breastfeed, putting down those that choose not to but supporting those who wish to do so for as long as they wish to after reading the information and making choices for theirs and their baby’s health.
NHS Staff Retention
It is widely documented that there are staff shortages in the NHS amongst their clinical staff: nurse, midwives and doctors. The government’s target of recruiting 50,000 nursing staff is not going well and with an aging workforce attracting young staff is an “important part of addressing current staff shortages” as stated by the author of research into the lack of flexibility for nursing staff returning after maternity . On top of these issues are those of the ‘broken’ staff who have worked tirelessly through the pandemic.
East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust and their charity Colchester and Ipswich Hospital Charity have taken up the gauntlet and sought a solution to show they value their staff. In August when we launched the prototype of our MumPod® the trust’s Infant Feeding Lead Midwife Zoe Maekin contacted us enquiring about the pods. Skip to 10 months later the first MumPod will be installed at the Colchester and Ipswich sites in May. These pods will enable staff, patients, and visitors across both hospitals to have a clean, comfortable, quiet space to rest, express or breastfeed. The original idea was to install the pods for staff as part of their wellbeing initiatives implemented over the Covid Pandemic. NHS showing their vital workforce that they are valued but the ethos of this initiative is inclusion therefore they have ensured it will be sited with 24-hour access for all visitors to the hospitals. These are the first pods of their kind in the UK and the first installation of the MumPod in the world.