It is a subject which women find hard, if not impossible, to avoid during pregnancy – breastfeeding. Wherever you look there is someone telling you about the benefits for both mother and baby, another leaflet being thrust in your hand and, if you’re really lucky, a DVD of other women evangelising about it.
But as is so often the case, the health service does not always put its money where its mouth is.
This week the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) called for improvements to be made to services for babies with breastfeeding problems because they are born tongue-tied.
Affecting around 3 per cent of babies, tongue-tie occurs when the fold of skin connecting the tongue to the bottom of the mouth is shorter than usual.
A simple surgical procedure to snip the tie can help mothers and babies where there are problems feeding, which if not resolved can lead to women giving up breastfeeding, no doubt leaving them feeling guilty after being force-fed the “breast is best” mantra for the previous nine months of their pregnancy.
But the NCT says that services across the UK to treat these babies are too patchy, and awareness needs to be increased.
It would like to see a service for tongue-tie treatment available at every maternity unit in the country.
My niece was one of those babies whose feeding in the early days and weeks was affected by tongue-tie.
While this was suspected as the cause of her problems when she was just a few days old, she was more than a month old by the time she was finally referred for help. And then she had to travel to a hospital in another county for treatment.
It is said that in days gone by midwives used to keep one fingernail extra long and sharp to carry out the procedure themselves if a baby’s tongue looked like it might cause problems. Let’s hope that midwife also owned a good nailbrush.
While this is obviously not a solution to current delays in getting treatment – the fact that it makes my eyes water just thinking about it is proof of that – there is clearly more that can be done to speed up help for babies and their mothers, pushed to the brink of despair and contemplating hitting the (milk) bottle.
At the same time, as the Royal College of Midwives point out, it has to be clear that tongue-tie is causing problems with the feeding process before a surgical procedure, however minor, is carried out.
As the battle to improve breastfeeding rates continues, the NHS has to put the right support in place.
Leaflets alone, and the odd lecture, just don’t cut it.