Author: Hannah Croft


Why would anyone need Breastfeeding Support?

Why does anyone need breastfeeding support?

I remember this time last January telling my cousin that having completed all the requirements, I hoped to apply and sit the exam to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) by the end of the year. He looked at me blankly, and said ‘why would anyone need help with breastfeeding?’ The question took me by surprise, I spend many hours a week supporting mothers babies and families to reach their breastfeeding goals, and yet taking a step back, I could see how to someone not in ‘my world’, or expecting a baby, or finding breastfeeding challenging, or perhaps just adjusting to all that parenting brings, breastfeeding support must seem a bit arbitrary. Surely you just put the baby to your breast and off you go?

For some women that may be the case; breastfeeding just ‘happens’; but for many breastfeeding takes time to learn, it’s a new skill to develop, and you and your baby have to learn the ‘dance’ together, all in the sleep deprived foggy state that is new parenthood.

We don’t spend enough time routinely talking about feeding babies antenatally; surely the ideal time to do so when as expectant parents you are hungry for information and keen to learn. We put lots of time into considering the birth; rightly so, it’s an important point in this journey, but I would argue equally important is the ability for women and their partners to be able to recover and have the energy, confidence and knowledge to effectively establish breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is the true definition of team work; by taking some time to learn about breastfeeding, how it looks, what it feels like, how we know it’s going well, will all be a really helpful time investment for the 3 of you.

Breastfeeding takes time and commitment to master. I love this quote from Art Williams; ‘I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it’. Your body expects to breastfeed as the last stage of the cycle of creating new life, your baby will most likely be born with the instincts to search for your breast and feed, and yet, sometimes it can take perseverance and determination to bring the 2 together. That said, breastfeeding support is not just for feeding dyads who are experiencing difficulties; it can be really useful to access these services simply to hear other women’s experiences, to help you find your ‘tribe’ as you adjust to motherhood, and to have the experience of having that regular contact with mothers going through a similar thing to you.

Having skilled support around can make all the difference to figuring out how breastfeeding works for you and your baby, and to give you the reassurance that all is well. That support can come in many ways and it can be really helpful to learn about local breastfeeding support available to you while you’re pregnant so you know where to go when your baby arrives;

*Family and friends who have breastfeeding experience themselves

*Supportive healthcare professional like your Midwife, Health Visitor or GP

*The amazing breastfeeding support charities like La Leche League, Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, The Breastfeeding Network or the NCT that we are lucky enough to have in the UK. As an LLL Leader myself (volunteer Breastfeeding Counsellor) I am really aware of how important these face to face groups, Facebook groups and national helplines are for both new and experienced mothers.

*A Peer Support group; a peer supporter is someone who has had experience of breastfeeding their own baby, and has had some training to voluntarily support and empower other women to breastfeed.

*Or maybe you may need some more specialist breastfeeding support. If this is the case you may seek out an IBCLC who has undertaken 1000 clinical hours of breastfeeding support, completed 90 hours breastfeeding education, studied 14 science subjects and then sat an international exam to earn the title. In the UK IBCLCs tend to work in Private Practice, in hospitals and also in Community groups and clinics.

In answer to the original question, we need breastfeeding support to help us as we set out on this new and exciting, and sometimes daunting, life stage of parenthood. To help us tune into our instincts, our babies and our bodies and understand and trust all that breastfeeding is, and all it offers us. The most important thing to remember? You’ve got this, and we’re all cheering you on!

Hannah Croft IBCLC 07732 090102


How I rediscovered the LLLove

I am an LLL Leader. And recently I became an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). It took a lot of work and dedication, and frankly, bloody mindedness, not dissimilar to that of a breastfeeding mother; that fire in the belly that drives you on.

In the 1980’s LLL recognise the need for a professional qualification in Lactation. It was an opportunity for their Leaders to be recognised as being the leading voices in supporting breastfeeding mothers, and now it has become internationally recognised. The qualification is open to medical practitioners as well as volunteers from other breastfeeding organisations.

I have been so focused on getting this qualification, that maybe I’ve failed to pause and look round at my new profession enough. I am so unbelievably proud to now call myself an IBCLC. And yet, perhaps I had, naively, not appreciated the range of opinions and diversity in my colleagues who share my qualification, in what is considered breastfeeding support. And I do understand that that can be a good thing; the world is a big place, and we are all different. I hope we are all united in the same goal; to support women and babies. I get that LLL does not appeal to everyone. Our philosophies stand us apart from other breastfeeding charities; as does our drive to advocate for the baby in all situations. I’ve been reflecting on how my 2 ‘hats’ fit with each other; the challenges wearing both may create.

Truthfully, I had not probably not acknowledged how engrained the LLL philosophies are in me. Maybe I have actually immersed myself so much in LLL ways that I had forgotten there are other ways. I needed them to be challenged, in order for me to defend them to others, and probably myself.

Perhaps these issues are bigger than I realised; we often live busy lifestyles, mothers choose to return to work, we do not all have the ‘luxury’ of slowing down and tuning in to our babies. And perhaps this is the saddest bit, that these tiny defenceless babies are born and expected to fit into our lives, to follow our sleep patterns, to self settle, to separate from us so we can resume our careers, our nights out, our lives. Our culture is not about tuning into our babies; about realistic expectations of sleep, and frankly parenthood; the relentless, the exhaustion of being that child’s constant. And that is not the parents fault, it is the failing of our changing society, not individuals. But I do wonder if it means that some are missing the true value of mothering through breastfeeding, and ultimately being able to trust this, wonderful, process. Maybe some parents having already been in a minority of having succesfully navigated the minefield of establishing breastfeeding, are able to do this for a while, but then maybe those cultural voices about what the baby ‘should’ be doing win out, and they contemplate others ways to do things; to get the babies to sleep more, feed differently, fit a schedule.

Mothering through breastfeeding came as a bit of a shock to me. I had been a nanny; I thought I knew it all. I’d looked after, mothered if you like, lots of children in the absence of their own parents. But when my own babies were born, I realised I now had an extra tool to my belt; my boobs! I’d wanted to breastfeed, but I’d failed to understand that breastfeeding was so much more than just food. It calmed my babies, it soothed them, it put them to sleep. It brought me breathing space. Neither of my experiences were straightforward, but I persisted, because something inside me told me this was worth it. Breastfeeding was so important in easing me into motherhood; the power and overwhelmingness that I was the only one who could do this for my babies. But I understand too, the pain when it is not straightforward, the anxiety of questioning our instincts, when it is not all easy, the bad days, the loneliness, the unease. Having worked so tirelessly to make breastfeeding work, I was happy to be not only my child’s food source, but their teddy bear too; I never felt the need to introduce an alternate comforter; it was me. I was (mostly) happy to say no to those nights out with friends, I (mostly) didn’t mind I was the only one who could settle them. Some nights were long, and after shaky starts I did doubt myself. Somehow, before I discovered LLL, I sensed those days were fleeting, and would soon be over. I had wonderful supportive friends who shared my thoughts, and no doubt spurred me on. And I was confident that by following my instincts I was raising tiny humans who would be secure. This will not suit everyone, but it suited me, and I’m so grateful my husband and I choose and continue to choose to parent the way we do. Honestly, breastfeeding is one of my greatest achievements, and I know I’m not alone in feeling like that.

My recent experiences have made me realise how my practice as an IBCLC will always be woven with LLL philosophy, I will always be an LLL Leader first, and I’m blooming proud of that. To some extent this defines me as a professional, and some would suggest it is truly the backbone for the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE). While I will of course, support a family to reach their own goals and read each situation as individual, finding the right way for them, but I think those 10 philosophies will always be in the back of my mind and bring a richness to my practice, as I empathise, support and encourage each family.

Breastfeeding is bloody hard work. But actually, so is parenting, and I honestly believe breastfeeding gives us a solution, not creates us a problem.