Berkshire mothers and babies let down by devastating cuts to breastfeeding support

no breastfeeding

‘Let down’, that’s an innocuous little phrase isn’t it? It probably conjures up feelings of mild to moderate disappointment or annoyance. When Asda home delivery substitutes your loo roll with light bulbs- that’s being let down. When Yodel push a card through your door saying they were sorry to have missed you so they’ve taken your parcel back to the depot, because you left your vigil at the front window for 5 minutes to go pee- that’s being let down.

Breastfeeding cuts don’t just let parents down. The affects of breastfeeding cuts can be devastating on both a human and financial level

Babies who are not breastfed are at an increased risk of: ear infections, chest infections, gastrointestinal infections and necrotizing enterocolitis. Mothers who don’t breastfeed are at increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Improving breastfeeding rates could potentially save the NHS up to £48 million per year

But there is also much more immediate damage that  these cuts do to new mothers. A mother who can’t access breastfeeding support  may experience painful, damaged and bleeding nipples. Despite the fact that, with skilled and effective support, damaged nipples are one of the simplest breastfeeding problems to resolve, it is the most common reasons mothers stop breastfeeding. And it’s easy to understand why as the pain can be excruciating, and  the damage is repeated at every feed (and babies feed a lot!) and continues in between feeds. A mother going through this is at risk of developing a bacterial infection in her nipple, blocked ducts, mastitis, and possibly even an abscess in her breast. She is also at an increased risk of developing post-natal depression, partly due to the pain and anxiety , but also because, without help and support it is unlikely she will be able to continue breastfeeding and mothers who are forced to stop breastfeeding before they’d hoped are at much higher risk of PND.

This is not a let down, or a minor inconvenience. This is a major public health crisis with far reaching ramifications.

Breastfeeding support in Berkshire is a post code lottery (this is also true at a national level). Provision of breastfeeding support has been placed in the hands of local authorities, which has led to glaring inconsistencies in the levels of support available.

All families have access to support from midwives and health visitors, which is wonderful, however, as I’m sure many of those dedicated healthcare professionals can attest, the pressures of their workload means that they often don’t have time to sit for up to an hour with a new mother, observing a full feed, and  supporting breastfeeding. This is where the role of dedicated, specialized breastfeeding support comes in. Breastfeeding support services are needed to work in partnership with the health care professionals  to ensure mothers get the level of support they need.

Reading no longer has a funded breastfeeding support service. Previously there was a funded peer-support service Mum’s could sign up for, where they could receive one to one support from a qualified per supporter by phone, text and on occasion home visits. That no longer exists. Against overwhelming odds there are some volunteer led drop in running

West Berkshire has an in house support service provided by the family hubs, families can contact their local hub to request support.

Wokingham still has the intensive phone and text support service provided by Breastfeeding Network peer supporters.

The Windsor, Maidenhead and Ascot Breastfeeding Network services were decommissioned at the end of March, however they have been able to secure lottery funding so are planning to re-launch this Autumn. It goes without saying that having to apply for funding in this way leaves service vulnerable to not being able to secure funding in the future, forcing them to stop operating at short notice. 

There are separate volunteer run support services still in operation, however, volunteer led support services are vulnerable because volunteers can leave (return to work, move away etc.) and there isn’t always funding to train new volunteers.

So, with the exception of the Wokingham area, things are bleak across Berkshire

Given that roughly 6000 babies per year are are born at the Royal Berkshire hospital alone these cuts equate to thousands of mothers and babies in the area being left without support.

What can you do to help?

You can help by tweeting, or emailing your local councillors, commissioners, MP’s and Ministers, letting them know how important breastfeeding support services are, and the devastating effects cuts can have on local families.


The dangers of the rise of self-professed breastfeeding experts.


It seems as if anyone can call themselves an expert in something these days. When you look across fields like nutrition and vaccination there are multitudes of self-professed ‘experts’ very vocally pedaling their opinions and ‘expertise’ in spite of the minor detail that they have absolutely no training or qualifications on the subject matter whatsoever. No, hundreds of hours of Googling don’t count.

The same is true in breastfeeding. There are many people who give themselves a fancy title, write a book, get a TV appearance or two, and claim to be experts in the field. It is alarmingly easy for people to do this in the field of breastfeeding because terms like ‘lactation consultant’ ‘infant feeding consultant.’ ‘breastfeeding specialist’ ‘infant feeding adviser’ are not legally protected terms in the same way that ‘midwife’ ‘dentist’ etc. are. So anyone can give themselves a title even if they have had absolutely no specific training in breastfeeding.

Sadly the UK provides fertile ground for these self-styled ‘experts’ to flourish. As highly social creatures we rely on our village to help us navigate life, particularly when it comes to parenting. Our breastfeeding rates have been so low for so long then when it comes to breastfeeding we’ve lost our village. Mums today can no longer turn to their own mothers, sisters aunts, friends etc. for breastfeeding support because chances are that they formula fed. So instead they turn to the ‘experts. Now, if the expert they turn to is qualified and trained, like an IBCLC or a breastfeeding counsellor or peer supporter, chances are they’re in safe hands. However if the ‘expert’ they turn to is someone with no training and is just someone who’s given themselves a fancy title, and written a book then the help and support they receive can be much less reliable.

The damage these supposed experts do cannot be over stated. On one hand they damage the breastfeeding support community as a whole by cheapening and damaging the credibility of properly qualified breastfeeding supporters who’ve spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours training, reading, volunteering, staying up to date etc. Imagine that you’ve dedicated your life to studying something and putting that knowledge into practice to try and help mothers meet their breastfeeding goals,and someone with no training comes along calling themselves and expert and giving out incorrect information that actively damages breastfeeding journeys. You’d probably be a bit miffed.

But far more importantly is the damage they do to mums and babies. I won’t go into the full importance of breastfeeding for mothers and babies short and long term health because that would be a whole blog post in itself, but one thing that I will mention is that mothers who aren’t able to meet their breastfeeding goals are at a dramatically increased risk of developing depression. When a mother wants to breastfeed (for however long, an hour, a month, a year or more) it is important to her, and therefore it is important that she is given whatever help and support she needs to meet that breastfeeding goal.

Some of the advice and information given out by the ‘expert’s will actively damage breastfeeding journeys and make it far less likely that mothers will be able to meet their goals.  One of the most profound examples of this is telling mums that things like: frequent feeding, and low pumping out put are indicative of low supply. They’re not.  Anxiety over low supply is incredibly common among mothers though, and despite the fact that genuine low supply only affects a small minority of women, worries about supply is the second most common reason mothers stop breastfeeding (second only to sore and damaged nipples).

If you need breastfeeding support please make sure that the person giving support is trained and qualified to do so. This link provides a good overview of the different titles of qualified breastfeeding supporter you might speak to in the UK

This link will help you find a local IBCLC

And remember if in doubt always ask someone what their credentials are. Who trained them? When did they train? How much experience do they have? How do they stay up-to-date?

Someone who is appropriately trained will have no problem answering and will be happy to put your mind at rest.

Lactation Cookies. What’s the harm?

Spend enough time in breastfeeding support groups and soon you’ll start to see that whenever someone thinks they’re struggling with their milk supply people will start suggesting foods, drinks and herbs to increase their supply. These can include things like oats, yeast, avocado, chocolate, fenugreek, drinking more water etc. The list goes on.

So what’s the harm? I mean, these are all perfectly natural foodstuffs, many of which we probably eat as part of our diet anyway, what could possibly be the harm in these well meaning suggestions to eat and drink your way to more milk?

Well, for one thing, they don’t work. Nothing you eat or drink, no amount of water, oats, herbs, teas etc. will make your produce more milk.

Making suggestions that Mums need to eat certain foods in order to produce an adequate supply of milk undermines breastfeeding, and frankly undermines women. Female bodies do not need special foods, or teas to work properly. With the exception of very rare cases all your breasts need in order to produce the right amount of milk is this: Ensure that baby is latched on well, and is able to remove milk effectively, and feed responsively (if baby cannot feed then express milk when baby would normally feed).

The suggestion that we need special foods to make our breasts work just reinforces the constant societal message that low supply is a common problem, and that female bodies are generally faulty and incapable of fulfilling their biological purpose.

And while that’s bad enough the real harm lactation cookies, teas, herbs etc. do is to mothers with genuine supply concerns. While it’s very rare that a mother will be unable to produce enough milk for her baby, what is more common are milk transfer issues. Cases where the baby isn’t able to transfer milk effectively- due to issues such as a shallow latch, and it’s common in these cases where baby is feeding very frequently but not gaining weight well for a Mum to worry about her supply.

Regardless of whether issues are being caused by an inherent low supply, or milk transfer issues what that mother needs is skilled and effective breastfeeding support, and she needs it fast.

Suggestions of cookies, and teas and herbs and drinking a reservoir dry can delay or even prevent a Mum accessing the skilled support she desperately needs. Now you might be reading this thinking, well why not both? Why can’t she eat the cookies and access that support?  Because accessing support can be difficult for many Mums for a whole host of reasons. Ordering a box of cookies off the internet that claim to cure your problem is not.

Almost every story I hear from Mums who stopped breastfeeding because they thought they didn’t have enough milk includes an account of how they tried herbs, teas, cookies. And it’s honestly, heart breaking to hear from a Mum who clearly really wanted to breastfeed, who tried all these different things, none of which were ever going to work, and missed out on the one thing that could’ve actually helped- skilled support.

And some of this stuff is not cheap. OK, a pack of porridge oats isn’t going to break most budgets, but some of these packs of biscuits and bottles of herb capsules can cost more than £20 a time. For a desperate Mum who wants to make breastfeeding work and will try anything and everything, that can add up really fast. So vulnerable mothers are being coerced into spending an awful lot of money on products that don’t work, and won’t help them at all. That’s exploitation.

But that’s not all. Chances are no-ones going to get ill eating some flapjack (not unless they eat an awful lot of it, that is) but some of the things being suggested are not as harmless as a packet of biscuits. Fenugreek probably won’t do you any harm if you’re using a small amount to season a curry. But in large amounts, like the amounts a Mum might be ingesting if she’s taking several capsules a day, it has some very real risks of side effects. These can include: Hives, swelling of the lips and tongue, difficulty breathing, hypoglycemia, diarrhea and abdominal pain.  In people with diabetes taking fenugreek can lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels. So essentially what this means is that Mums are being exposed to the risk of potentially serious side effects, when there’s no real evidence of any benefit.

So what’s the harm?

Undermining breastfeeding

Potentially delaying or preventing a Mum with genuine issues accessing support

Exploiting vulnerable mothers

Exposing mothers to the risk of serious side effects for no benefit

If a mother you know is worried about her milk supply sign post her to a local breastfeeding drop in, the national breastfeeding helpline, or an IBCLC. That will help her, and could save her breastfeeding journey.

Flapjacks will not.

lactation cookies