Breastfeeding support

8 min read

Find out how much breastfeeding help you can expect at the hospital or birth centre after giving birth, and how to get help from breastfeeding support workers once you’ve come home.

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For you and your newborn baby to have the best chance of getting breastfeeding off to a good start, you need to have access to the right help and support immediately after birth and in the weeks and months that follow. 

The Baby Friendly Initiative

Planning to have your baby at a hospital or birth centre that is supportive of breastfeeding can make all the difference during the first hours after you’ve given birth.

Unicef awards a Baby Friendly accreditation to labour wards and birth centres that do a good job of supporting mothers and newborn babies to bond and breastfeed. Among other things, a Baby Friendly maternity unit has to:

  1. Help all mothers and babies to bond and start feeding soon after birth.
  2. Make it possible for mothers to get breastfeeding off to a good start.
  3. Support mothers to make informed decisions when it comes to giving food or drinks other than breastmilk.
  4. Support parents to have a close and loving relationship with their baby.

Maternity units get different awards depending on how far they have come in supporting parents and babies with breastfeeding.

  • Certificate of Commitment: When the hospital has created an action plan and an infant feeding policy.
  • Stage 1: When the hospital has created policies to support the Baby Friendly standards and an education programme for staff.
  • Stage 2: When the staff are educated and empowered with skills and knowledge to support infant feeding and bonding between parents and babies.
  • Stage 3: When all mothers, partners and babies are supported to have a close relationship and start feeding soon after the birth, and new parents have enough knowledge to make an informed choice on how to feed their baby.
  • Full Accreditation: When all stages have been completed. Once fully accredited, a maternity unit is checked every two years to make sure it still passes.

More than nine in ten maternity units in the UK are working towards the Baby Friendly accreditation, and all maternity and community services in Scotland have received the Baby Friendly status.

To find out how much support you can expect to get after giving birth, use our Birth Choice tool to look up the birth centre or hospital where you’re planning to have your baby and read more under ‘Breastfeeding accreditation’.

If you’re concerned that the maternity unit where you’re planning to give birth isn’t supportive enough of breastfeeding, you can take a look at other options nearby and see if they’re accredited. If they are, you may want to take that into account when you’re choosing where to give birth.

Visit the Unicef Baby Friendly website for a more detailed explanation of the initiative.

Breastfeeding your baby in NICU

If your baby has any special needs or the two of you need to be separated for some time after the birth, for example if they need to be admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), you should still be given help to breastfeed as soon and often as possible. You may also be able to express milk for your baby with a borrowed breast pump from the hospital.

Just like maternity units, NICUs can also receive the Unicef Baby Friendly accreditation. For an NICU to be Baby Friendly, it has to:

  1. Support parents to have a close and loving relationship with their baby.
  2. Make it possible for babies to receive breastmilk and to breastfeed when possible.
  3. Value parents as partners in their baby’s care.

Breastfeeding support in hospital

All midwives have some training in breastfeeding and should be able to help you with your baby’s first feed after the birth and any issues you experience while you’re staying on the postnatal ward.

However, if you feel you’re not getting the breastfeeding support you need from midwives, you may find it helpful to ask if the hospital has anyone with more expertise who you can talk to.

A lot of hospitals have staff members with additional training and responsibility for breastfeeding, who will be best placed to deal with more complex questions or circumstances. These specialists are known as lactation consultants or ‘infant feeding coordinators’. They’re often employed by the NHS, but some also help women privately.

To be sure that you’re receiving advice from someone with the necessary qualifications, you can ask if they are an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). This is the highest level of breastfeeding support available and these certified practitioners can help you with complex breastfeeding issues, including assessing your baby for tongue-tie.

Breastfeeding help once you’re home

It takes around six weeks for breastfeeding to be established and it’s not at all unusual to experience breastfeeding problems of some sort in this time, so it’s important that you know where to find help in your local community.

There are a number of breastfeeding practitioners, as well as your midwives and other health professionals, who you can turn to for help after the birth.

If you ever receive breastfeeding advice that you don’t feel good about, you can always ask for a second opinion. If in doubt, speak to an IBCLC for more advice.

Your community midwife

If you’ve had a home birth or gone home from the hospital or birth centre, you should have been given contact details for midwives you can contact at any point if you need help with breastfeeding in the early days after the birth.

At your postnatal appointments, your midwife will check that your baby’s having wet and dirty nappies and gaining weight (good indications that they’re getting enough milk) and that feeding isn’t painful for you.  If your midwife thinks there could be a problem with the breastfeeding or your baby, they’ll be able to advise you on the best course of action.

Your health visitor

You’ll probably be advised to see your health visitor to have your baby weighed once a month, and that’s a good time to ask any breastfeeding questions you may have. You can also contact your health visitor in between the monthly appointments if you have any queries or concerns.

Just like maternity units and NICUs, health visitor services can receive the Unicef Baby Friendly accreditation. For a health visitor service to be Baby Friendly, they need to:

  1. Help mothers to continue breastfeeding for as long as they wish.
  2. Support mothers to make informed decisions when it comes to weaning or introducing formula.
  3. Support parents to have a close and loving relationship with their baby.

Your GP

You can turn to your GP if you have any medical issues that you think may be breastfeeding related, for example if you think you’re suffering from mastitis. Likewise, if your baby seems to be having problems that require medication, the GP can prescribe the necessary treatment.

Your six-week postnatal GP check-up is also a good opportunity to ask questions about breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding counsellors and peer supporters

Breastfeeding counsellors (or breastfeeding supporters) are women who have breastfed their own babies for at least six months and have undergone a training programme run by one of the main breastfeeding organisations (for example La Leche League, Association of Breastfeeding Mothers or NCT).

You’re likely to get in contact with breastfeeding counsellors if you call helplines, go to breastfeeding support groups or attend private antenatal classes. They can help you with common breastfeeding issues and help you get referred to specialists if needed.

Breastfeeding peer supporters are women who have breastfed their own babies, although not necessarily for a long period, and have received some training in supporting other breastfeeding women. A peer supporter isn’t trained to help you identify medical issues, but to listen and support you as a friend and help you find medical support if you need it.

You may meet peer supporters at children’s centres or breastfeeding drop-ins. Some NHS trusts also organise mum-to-mum peer support groups so you’ll have someone friendly to talk to about any concerns or breastfeeding questions.

Breastfeeding clinics and groups

NHS breastfeeding clinics

A lot of hospitals run daily or weekly breastfeeding clinics where you can take your baby to be assessed for tongue-tie, get advice on latch and positioning, or simply find someone to talk to about breastfeeding without needing to have an appointment. 

You can ask your midwife what breastfeeding clinics or peer support programmes are available in your area.

Breastfeeding group meet-ups

Many organisations, for example La Leche League and NCT, arrange free meet-ups for new and expectant parents. You may find it useful to go along to their meetings, for support and reassurance from other breastfeeding mums.

This map of breastfeeding support groups can be a good starting point to find a group near you.

Online breastfeeding support and helplines

If you don’t have any groups around you, or simply don’t feel like leaving your home (completely understandable – especially if you’ve just given birth), you may like to join some of the many breastfeeding groups and pages on Facebook and other social media channels.

There’s a wealth of knowledge from thousands of other breastfeeding mums, there to help you at the click of a finger – even during 3am night feeds.

Many organisations also run helplines that you can call if you have any questions about breastfeeding:

Private breastfeeding help

While many women feel they get enough free support, other new mothers may not find the help they need to continue breastfeeding for as long as they wish.

A private practitioner that you pay for may be able to spend more time helping you to breastfeed than NHS staff. And while you may have to wait weeks to have your baby’s tongue-tie cut on the NHS in some areas, a private practitioner can often do this within days.

If you’re looking into private breastfeeding support, make sure you ask what qualifications the person advising you has. Ideally, you want to see someone who is an IBCLC so you know they’re qualified to help you. Find an IBCLC near you.

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