mothers milk home
Many studies, including the latest from the World Cancer Research Fund, recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies for six months, yet in reality professional support for breastfeeding is sometimes lacking. Rebecca Warden, mum to month-old Julia, said, “In hospital I was shown a couple of basic positions but that was it, there was no feedback to tell me if I was doing it properly and when I left hospital three days later both nipples were cracked and then I developed mastitis [an inflamation of the mammary gland]. I was determined to breastfeed so I sought help, but I can see how other women would turn to the bottle.”
She found her help from a local support group, ALBA Lactancia. ALBA currently has four free drop-in groups in Barcelona each week, including one with an English-speaking consultant in the Ciutat Vella on Monday, as well as a 24-hour helpline for emergency consultations. This year ALBA Lactancia Materna celebrates its 15th anniversary as a nonprofit organisation providing information and support for breastfeeding mothers. The groups are organised as peer-to-peer support, meaning that while they are run by an experienced and trained monitora (group leader), other mums are also an important part of the group.
In each group session the mums share experiences on a range of topics that relate to the experience of breastfeeding, from emotional and family issues, to combining work with breastfeeding or introducing alimentación complementaría (solids), while the monitora concentrates on the mums with new babies who have more specific issues like painful feeding or milk supply problems. “It was really useful to see other mums in the same boat as it’s easy to get isolated as a new mum,” Warden said. “Going to the group was a very positive experience.”
ALBA also organises a range of projects to educate the public about breastfeeding. These include lectures, art and photo exhibitions, a biannual course and organising an annual fiesta de lactancia (breastfeeding festival) in October. Thanks to such efforts, groups like ALBA have been among the influences that have changed the Spanish public’s perception of breastfeeding over the past 15 years. “Breastfeeding has increased in terms of the number of mothers breastfeeding, as well as the duration of breastfeeding,” Eulalia Torres i Ribas, ALBA’s director, told Metropolitan. “For example the number of mothers that continue to breastfeed for six months has increased by 425 percent.”
But the success story is far from complete. Eighty-one percent of mothers were choosing to breastfeed when their babies were born, but by six months of age only 13.8 percent were exclusively breastfeeding, as is recommended by the World Health Organisation and the World Cancer Research Fund, according to a study done by the Departament de Salut in Catalunya in 2005. The most dramatic drop in breastfeeding (13.6 percent) occurs between the third and fourth month, which coincides with the moment that many mothers return to work after their four months of paid maternity leave.
Torres i Ribas explained that more could be done to favour breastfeeding. “Breastfeeding support relates to so many aspects of women’s lives. Fully supporting women goes much further than just information and support, it means better attention from health professionals, better information in the education system, improving conditions for breastfeeding and paid work, understanding the needs of a woman and her breastfeeding child. Legislation always helps but more than that it is the re-evaluation of the work of women, child rearing, the cooperation of the woman’s partner, a whole mental and cultural shift.”