Thursday, 2 February 2012

Newspapers make me grumpy.

Not just newspapers, all forms of news reporting make me really, very cross. I used to be terribly impressionable as a youngster and believed everything on the news programmes and in the papers entirely, because they couldn't print/say something if it wasn't true - right?

I can't remember when exactly I started to understand how biased the media is; how easy it is to skew a particular event through language and cleverly chosen snippets of quotes taken out of context. Then there's the practice of just not reporting some things at all! I have a friend who lives in Palestine and is extremely passionate about trying to get information out about the goings on over there - stuff that just doesn't make it to the papers and news programmes we see in the UK, because it doesn't fit the convenient political agenda. Some of the things she's seen are horrific but if you want to read about it for yourself, you have to go to extraordinary - and in her case, often dangerous - lengths to unearth it. 

So, imagine my dismay at flicking on BBC Breakfast news today, as I do every morning (I have a real soft spot for Bill & Sian) to see the reports on the Vitamin D supplement furore. Suitable references to medical studies on the effects and prevalence of Vit. D deficiency, quotes from doctors about how much money the NHS would save in the long run if everybody protected themselves against Vit. D deficiency, and so on, so forth. And all I kept thinking is "why aren't any of you this eager to report stories in support of breastfeeding, or stories that highlight just how poor the standard of aftercare for breastfeeding women is?". Considering that much of the Vit. D coverage highlighted how poorly understood the guidelines on it are by the general public and medical institutions alike, it baffles me to think the same principle doesn't apply to the doctors, health visitors and general public who are really terrifically misinformed about the true nature of breastfeeding.

Where is the story covering the experiences of the mothers who go through pregnancy and birth determined to breastfeed, only to find that the midwives on the postnatal wards are too overstretched to dedicate any serious time to helping them establish breastfeeding? Or worse! The hospital staff whose response is to suggest giving the baby a bottle! This isn't in reference to the mums who have no interest in breastfeeding, but there are so many - TOO many - who want to breastfeed, are encouraged towards it by leaflets and booklets given in pregnancy - and then find that there's nobody around to help them, or people around actively discouraging them. Isn't that weird? In fact, isn't that downright disgraceful?

What's more, the people who volunteer to help such women out - often mums themselves who've undergone training and devote their time, unpaid, to visiting women in hospital and at home to help, or midwives and health visitors who've taken the time to really educate themselves about breastfeeding support - are given pejorative names like "the breastapo" or "breastfeeding Nazi" (see HERE for a really excellent discussion on this). 

Why don't the media report things like this? Where is the OUTRAGE that GPs often have no idea what the accurate advice to give to a mum with mastitis is? My own GP told me that I must stop breastfeeding when I got mastitis, because the milk would be infected and make my baby ill. Had I followed his advice and not researched it myself, instead following the recommendations of an IBCLC Lactation Consultant, I could have ended up with a very nasty breast abscess. Sadly I am nowhere near a minority in experiencing truly dreadful and inaccurate advice about breastfeeding from healthcare professionals. But WHERE is the media coverage of this? WHERE is the story about how many women feel they had to give up breastfeeding purely because they were denied the correct information and support to overcome hurdles in their feeding journey?

Is there ANY other area of healthcare where a medical professional could get away with being so poorly informed? There really, really isn't. Yet in spite of ever increasing research showing the long term health impact of not breastfeeding, the general perception of the importance of breastfeeding isn't changing and mothers from all around the UK who want to breastfeed their child are still frequently facing poor support. 

In case there are any breastfeeding mums who are reading this, I would like to take the opportunity to direct you to the really fantastic support organisations:

It's a shame that the kind of encouragement and accurate information managed by the organisations I've pointed out above isn't widely available as standard from all health care providers responsible for caring for new mothers and babies. It's even more of a shame that the media would rather publish negative and detrimental stories about breastfeeding than devote any time and effort to trying to improve the support services offered to every single mother.

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