New parents often complain that they are given contradictory advice when they are coping with the many challenges a baby and toddler provide – especially when it comes to feeding and weaning. A free service is setting out to change all of that.
Ealing Council is currently implementing UNICEF’s Baby Friendly Initiative throughout its children’s centres and health visiting service. Having ‘Baby Friendly’ centres means parents can access consistent, accurate advice about breastfeeding, safe bottle feeding and introducing other foods. The initiative also aims to help parents appreciate the benefits of having a close, loving relationship with their baby.
This is being co-ordinated by Caroline Neale, a registered midwife and lactation consultant; and specialist health visitor Katharine Curren.
Becoming Baby Friendly
“When I had my first child I spent my first two weeks rocking backwards and forwards crying,” said Caroline. “I didn’t know what I was doing, I was exhausted and finding breastfeeding difficult and my mum just kept telling me to put the baby in a cot. How many parents have been told that if you keep picking your baby up, ‘you are making a rod for your own back?’ It is a myth. One of many we try to unpick for parents.
“Parents need support but they are not always given consistent or realistic advice. And there are a lot of unrealistic expectations within society. That is why we are becoming Baby Friendly and why we are now trying to get everyone on the same page so parents are all given the same information and access to support. We encourage them to respond to their baby and not let him cry. We also give parents coping strategies for settling their newborn such as baby massage or using a sling.
“We want them to know about the fantastic free support that we offer. Those who access our service have lots to say about how overwhelmed they felt and how getting consistent advice and reassurance about normal newborn feeding and sleep patterns helped them through it.”
In different centres throughout the borough, parents can book one-to-one appointments with feeding specialists as well as attend baby massage classes and newborn behaviour classes. There is also a baby-sling ‘library’ which lends parents a sling for up to four weeks, free of charge. There are weekly group drop–in sessions for mums, no matter how they are feeding their baby; as well as a ‘six months and over club’ where mums discuss going back to work, baby-led weaning and the joys and challenges of having an older baby. All these sessions are free.
We asked a group of mums at Grange Children’s Centre in South Ealing what they thought. You can see them all pictured above.
‘I wish I had known then what I know now’
Sam Froggatt from South Ealing has been attending the sessions since her son Noah was five days old.
She said: “I was overwhelmed, tearful; it was horrendous. We didn’t have family nearby and the other parents we met through NCT were having the same experiences.
“The one-to-one sessions and drop-in group helped us so much – it was so reassuring and really supportive. We got help with feeding and told ‘this is normal, don’t worry.’ We made friends, too.
“It made all the difference and I wish I had known then what I know now thanks to the sessions.
“Later on we got help with myth-busting over the weight of the baby and what it actually meant; and then on baby-led weaning when moving on to solid food. There are so many examples.
“I keep telling others ‘you must go down’.”
‘There are a lot of myths and misconceptions’
Mariam Al-Bahrani from Greenford was recommended the sessions through a friend. Her daughter Nora was born in January. She said: “I’d heard brilliant things.
“There are a lot of myths and misconceptions around breast feeding and it puts you off. It is not as common as it used to be because people do not know enough about it or how to cope if it doesn’t instantly work. And you even get strangers telling you all kinds of things. Lactation consultants are really under-emphasised and not suggested enough, and if it wasn’t for the consultants here I wouldn’t have carried on even though I had always wanted to breast feed.
“It’s natural but only once you learn how to do it. It is a commitment, a big thing, and you need support. Coming here helps boost my motivation and confidence. It is also good to be around other women who breast feed, and Caroline is very empowering and a calm influence.”
‘This place is a real lifesaver’
“I was in a bit of a mess when I found Caroline’s number,” said Amy Charlwood, of South Ealing. She had just had her son Joseph and, after initially starting to breast feed, he had stopped latching on. “I couldn’t get him to feed and he was really upset and I was really upset and we couldn’t get hold of any midwives. But we spoke to Caroline and I just blurted out ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, I need you to help me.’ She said she could meet us that evening and was so calm and reassuring and was actually the first person to ask how I was rather than just the baby. I was shown breast feeding positions and tips and I went home and Joseph fed for one-and-a-half hours. I said ‘oh my God, she’s like an angel.’
“Joseph lost 15% of his birth weight, which is a lot, so we went to the hospital. They sent us into a bit of a panic but when I spoke to Caroline she spoke to us about inflated birth weights because the baby can carry a lot of excess fluid at birth – and that was exactly what had happened. It was normal and not a reason to worry about his health. Nothing against the medical staff we met but we feel like we got more support and understanding here, rather than being mostly concerned about ticking boxes.
“This place is a real lifesaver, and it is free. I definitely recommend children’s centres. Even if I’m feeling exhausted, I can meet other mums who feel exactly the same.
“I don’t think you can find out what it’s like to have a baby until you have had one. And I have told everyone in my NCT group to come down. All bar one of them have had the same issues as me.”
‘I don’t know what I’d have done without it’
Dani Collins from West Ealing is originally from Canada, so is far from any family support. When she had her daughter Ella she felt unprepared and under pressure until she started going to the children’s centre and received support and advice.
“I don’t know what I’d have done without it,” she said. “I found breast feeding more traumatic than the birth because at least you can be prepared for labour and know it is going to be hard but nobody tells you about what comes next. I felt so guilty for sometimes giving her formula milk instead of breast feeding – I felt like a failure and a bad mum. But coming here has been amazing and you realise you are not alone.”
‘Babies cry because they need us’
Caroline added: “We live in a culture that expects babies to eat at fixed times and to sleep through the night and to never need picking up when they cry. Parents find it impossible to follow these ‘rules’ and feel like failures when their baby wakes to feed at random times and is unsettled for half the night. Babies cry because they need us and it is completely normal for parents to want to comfort their baby. It seems unrealistic and unfair to expect parents to make their baby do something that we don’t even do ourselves – being ignored if we are crying and upset does not make us feel any better. We also want parents to realise that responding to your baby when he cries is a good thing to do – feeling safe and secure is important for your baby’s brain development and it also helps him grow into a confident adult.”
FIND OUT MORE
Ask at your local children’s centre about support with feeding your baby, or send a text message to 07718 114 882. To find your local children’s centre, visit:
You will be able to download the centre’s timetable as well as the latest feeding support sessions leaflet.