Supporting positive feeding experiences for all

Head of Knowledge, Sarah McMullen

How we feed our babies is a very personal decision, dependent on our circumstances, the information and support we receive, the challenges we face, and the social and cultural context in which we live.

To support these decisions, the NCT services we provide for expectant and new parents, including our infant feeding support, are built around a parent-centred approach. This means understanding and respecting each parent’s unique circumstances, and supporting them to make the decisions that are right for them.

Yet very often, right across society, mothers don’t feel prepared or supported to feed their babies the way they want to. They face judgement or feel guilty about their feeding experiences and the decisions they make. This can affect any mother, however she feeds her baby, and has a very real impact on emotional wellbeing at a challenging and vulnerable time.

We want this to change.

Our mission is to help parents have the best possible experience of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood. This means we are committed to informing and supporting mothers’ decisions, whatever that decision is.

  • We want all parents to feel prepared and confident as they welcome their baby into the world.
  • We want parents to know where to go for trusted support, and to be able to access that support, whoever they are and wherever they live.
  • We want them to feel respected in the decisions that they make, and supported to feed their babies the way they want to.

By providing trusted and personalised support, alongside evidence-based information on a range of feeding topics, we have a unique opportunity to help make these ambitions a reality.

What challenges do parents face?

We are particularly concerned about three ongoing challenges to positive feeding experiences:

  1. A high proportion of women find that they have to stop breastfeeding before they want to, often in the first few weeks. These mothers report feeling pressurised but not supported to breastfeed, and this can have a significant impact on their emotional wellbeing. This level of unwanted drop-off and related emotional impact has persisted in the UK for decades, but is not inevitable.
  2. Parents who introduce formula milk often report feeling unprepared or not able to access information on formula feeding. It is important that parents can prepare to formula feed their baby safely and responsively. They need to be able to ask questions about formula feeding without fear of judgement. They also need reliable and non-judgemental information, free from commercial interests, on the use of formula, and to know that they can get that information, plus help and support, from us. Many topics, such as feeding cues, responsive feeding, and an assortment of feeding difficulties, are relevant to all parents – regardless of how they intend to feed their baby.
  3. Women experience unacceptable levels of pressure however they feed their babies… from family and friends, as well as from people they hardly know. Mothers who breastfeed their babies often feel pressurised and constrained about whether, where, how often, and how long, they breastfeed. Similarly, mothers who use formula milk often feel judged or guilty too, particularly – but not only – if they planned to breastfeed.

What are we doing at NCT to address these challenges?

As part of the ourNCTservices project, we are conducting a major piece of new research with parents across the UK, helping to strengthen and shape our future services so that they are as accessible and impactful for parents as possible. One thing we’ve heard very strongly from parents is just how much need there is to be prepared for the reality of feeding their babies, to be able to access good quality breastfeeding support soon after birth, and to be able to access information and support with formula feeding too.

Our breastfeeding counsellors and peer supporters already provide highly valued practical and emotional support to thousands of women and families every year – on our infant feeding helpline, in people’s homes, in community drop-ins and Baby Cafés, and on postnatal wards. With cuts to services being felt across the UK, it is more important than ever that we work to protect and promote good quality support for all.

In addition to this major piece of strategic work, we have a number of other activities already underway.

  • We have updated our infant feeding message framework for our staff, volunteers and practitioners. This framework sets out how the services and support we provide, and the language that we use, can best support all parents with infant feeding and demonstrate inclusivity.
  • We have worked with a team of breastfeeding counsellors, building on parent feedback, to develop a new framework for the antenatal breastfeeding session and to outline how parents who are planning to feed formula milk (whether exclusively or in combination with breastmilk) can be supported antenatally.
  • Our quality team have produced a guide to best practice for antenatal practitioners and breastfeeding counsellors to work together effectively to deliver antenatal education in a way that best meets parents’ needs.
  • We have updated our study day programme for practitioners to build on new evidence and parent feedback, to support our practitioners with their knowledge, skills and confidence as part of their continuing professional development.
  • The quality team have been working one-to-one with a small group of practitioners who find it harder to get positive feedback from parents after their antenatal courses. This has led to significant improvement in parent satisfaction, and we’re continuing to focus on improving experiences for parents through our feedback and quality assurance processes.
  • We are reviewing and updating all of our web content to strengthen our evidence-based information across a range of feeding topics including breastfeeding, formula feeding and combination feeding.

Throughout all of our work, parents are at the very heart of our organisation. Our mission is to help parents have the best possible experience of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood. We are deeply committed to this and to continual improvement. So we always welcome feedback or suggestions for how we can improve what we do.

121 Replies to “Supporting positive feeding experiences for all”

  1. This is a really refreshing article. I felt guilty when I stopped breast feeding my twins.. although they were thriving whereas being EBF they both lost weight and struggled. Health professionals were brilliant but actually some friends surprised me with their reactions when I told them this

  2. Although I totally agree with NCT’s commitment to helping give all parents information to have a good start with parenthood. I am very concerned that supporting Breastfeeding as the best way of feeding their children doesn’t seem to be at the forefront of that. Despite all the hard work of your organisation and others we haven’t yet got back to the natural situation that breastfeeding is the norm. We are lucky enough that we live in the UK and have a clean water supply so that we can if we need to feed our babies with formula milk, but it should be the exception not a simple choice. Supporting and educating all parents in breastfeeding as norm should be paramount. This should be something that our children grow up with, that it is a wonderful thing to be able to do for your child giving them the very best individual nutrition. And that it is skill that you look forward to learning with your child and in turn they will pass on to their children.

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  4. I followed a link to this post from a BBC article titled ‘Bottle feeding is a woman’s right, midwives told’ on 12th June 2018. I am very pleased that the NCT is changing its guidance to support all feeding methods. When we used the NCT in 2016 prior to the birth of our first child we were not well equipped for what happened when breast feeding didn’t go well. By being real & honest about how difficult feeding can be and the emotional pressure this generates your support to many more families will be significantly enriched.

  5. 15 years ago I was encouraged at my ante natal classes to breast feed my baby and ask for as much help and support from the midwives when latching on . Sadly this was not the case, as I was told by one of the midwives on duty that they had more important things to do than Tom back and forth to help me feed my baby. I actually overheard one midwife say – she is a teacher , let her teach herself!!! One midwife actually left my newborn on top of me with no guard on my bed and I’d just had a Caesarean section too so I was struggling to even put my arm around him . I was terrified he’d fall off the bed and 20 minutes later another midwife shouted at me and shrieked yo the whole sleep g ward – what on earth do you think you’re doing!!! That baby could die!!!! Much yo my humiliation.
    After 4 days of trying to feed my son a breast feeding expert who happened to be on the word suggested I bottle feed as only a handful of midwives have appropriate breast feeding training, Reluctantly I agreed to this but due to the treatment in hospital and feeling a failure I ended up with oust natal depression. I wish now that I had made a formal complaint to the hospital and when I look at my handsome, healthy 15 year old son now , who was bottle fed I think I have to let it go. This is the first time I have shared this traumatic experience. I hope it can help other first time mums too .
    If you want women to breast feed you MUST give the midwives training, time and duty of care to the women who are their patients and sadly , sometimes put all their trust in the professionals which I feel let me down , and my son considerably .

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