I was shocked to read yesterday in the Mirror that in some areas, parents of babies with milk allergies will no longer be able to get formula free on prescription! Dairy Free Baby and Me has written a great response to this proposal with a balanced view of the pros and cons of the decision. The prescription formula costs up to £46 a tin (compared to £10 a tin for normal formula) and the tins are much smaller, so it would work out at hundreds of pounds a month, which is rather extreme.
What surprised me more though, is the large proportion of mums of babies with cows milk allergy who have found themselves relying on formula because they were unable to breastfeed. So I wanted to write this post to help mums who would like to breastfeed their babies with food allergies find where they can get support. Breastfeeding a baby with allergies is possible – my daughter has 6 food allergies and I breastfed her until just before she was 2 years of age. It wasn’t easy but I felt that breastfeeding was the best option for our situation. I completely understand that it’s not for everyone, if you couldn’t breastfeed or didn’t want to, I don’t really care, I’m only writing this article for those mums who would like to know where they can get breastfeeding support and not in judgement of those who bottle feed. (Full disclosure: I combination fed my first daughter a mixture of breast and bottle (expressed milk and formula), I exclusively breastfed my second and didn’t even express so she never had a bottle. Different sitations, different choices.)
Breastfeeding, when it is going well, can be lovely and a wonderful bonding experience between you and your baby. There are also many health benefits for both mum and baby which are worth bearing in mind when choosing between breast and bottle. However if it is not going well it can be really hard work and this is where you need to look for support. Getting the right help can reassure you that your baby is getting enough milk, that they are growing well, that their fussiness is normal and does not mean that you are a bad mum, and can also point you in the right direction if there is a problem such as food allergies, tongue tie, or mastitis (I’ve experienced all of these and I couldn’t have got through it on my own).
The easiest way to get face-to-face support with breastfeeding is at a drop-in support group. These are often run by SureStart centres, La Leche League, and the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). They are often run by ‘peer supporters’ which means mums who have breastfed at least one baby and who have been on a training course to learn how to support other mums. Peer supporters have been through it all before and can reassure you about what is normal and what is not, providing practical and emotional support. They can check your baby is latching properly and discuss any issues you may be concerned about. If there is a problem they can tell you where to get help in your local area (e.g. where to hire a breast pump, how to get diagnosis of an allergy, or how to get a tongue tie corrected). They can also help you plan how to continue breastfeeding when you return to work. You can go to these groups with breastfed babies and toddlers at any age, you can also go if you are combination feeding, or if you have previously formula fed a baby and want to learn about breastfeeding for a subsequent child. They are very friendly and welcoming places and there is no judgement. It’s also fine to turn up late (to be honest it’s expected if you have a newborn) – they are ‘drop-in’ groups! They’re also a great place to meet other mums and make new friends which is oh-so-important in the early weeks of parenting, and you can help to support each other in all areas as your babies grow and develop.
You can also get face-to-face support from breastfeeding counsellors, who are experienced breastfeeders who have received more extensive training in providing breastfeeding support. You can find out about local breastfeeding counsellors in your area from drop-in groups, health visitors, midwives, and hospitals.
Lactation consultants are also available in some hospitals and also work privately. They are sometimes referred to as an IBCLC which means ‘International Board Certified Lactation Consultant’, which is the highest level of breastfeeding and lactation certification, requiring extensive training and experience. They can provide support in more complex, difficult or high-risk situations. You can find your nearest IBCLC at the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain website.
Another source of support is from your health visitor or GP. However in my experience I have found that these can be a bit hit-and-miss as to whether they have much knowledge of breastfeeding, and how supportive they are. They are more useful if you need a referral for medical support such as correcting a tongue tie or if you are worried you may have mastitis.
There are a number of phonelines you can call for breastfeeding support. Like the drop-in groups these are mainly staffed by peer supporters who volunteer their time to help breastfeeding mums. They are great if you are having a wobble and need some reassurance and there’s no drop-in groups that day, or if something happens in the evening and you don’t want to wait until the following morning to speak to someone about it.
- NCT Breastfeeding Helpline 0300 330 0700
- National Breastfeeding Helpline (government-funded) 0300 100 0212
- La Leche League Helpline 0345 120 2918
There are loads of places online to get breastfeeding support, the internet really is a great resource for breastfeeding mums! There are Facebook groups where you can chat to other breastfeeding mums as well as websites with tons of information about breastfeeding and suggestions of ways to deal with different issues. As well as the sites listed below, it’s worth looking for local websites and groups such as attachment/natural/gentle parenting groups where you are more likely to find other breastfeeding mums. Also if you are looking for help with a specific problem, just Googling it will bring up lots of helpful advice and information. Here are some of my favourite sites:
- CMPA support for breastfeeding – a Facebook group especially for breastfeeding mums of babies with food allergies
- Kellymom – an American website with absolutely tons of information and articles about breastfeeding, including this page about food sensitivities.
- Analytical Armadillo – a blog by an IBCLC with loads of articles about infant feeding and early parenting.
- Association of Breastfeeding Mothers – lots of factsheets to read on various topics
I’ve breastfed both of my two children until they were almost two, and over the years I’ve relied on all of these sources of support. I had great difficulty in breastfeeding my eldest daughter as she had a very severe tongue tie (she still has a heart shaped tongue) and breastfeeding her extremely painful – the midwives at the hospital helped teach me how to express some milk as she couldn’t latch properly. I went regularly to breastfeeding drop-in groups for the first few weeks for emotional support and they suggested nipple creams, nipple shields and so on to help with the pain. I remember one particularly bad evening where I felt like throwing in the towel I phoned the breastfeeding helpline which helped give me the strength to carry on just one more day. I saw an NHS lactation consultant at the local hospital who helped to check my baby was latching correctly and referred us for tongue-tie correction, and eventually ended up seeing a private IBCLC who performed the procedure (as the NHS consultant in my area was on annual leave and I literally couldn’t wait any longer). With my second daughter (who also had a tongue tie that was spotted at birth and corrected a week later, thankfully) I relied more on the network of friends I had made first time around, but as I realised she had allergies, and didn’t get anywhere with my GP, I made extensive use of the internet, googling food allergies and reading through dozens of posts from other mums like me who were struggling – just knowing there were others going through the same as me helped. So breastfeeding can be challenging, but with determination and the right support, it is entirely possible, even in difficult circumstances.