The Poverty Trap & Breastfeeding

One of my regulars is MrI, who is in his late 50s. He’s a professional, but unemployed. I see him because of his blood pressure and intermittent depression, but mostly just for a chat. He used to run a company with a turnover of millions, which went bust during the last recession. He lost his house, his mental health deteriorated and ultimately his marriage broke down. He now finds himself wedged firmly in the poverty trap. Today he was telling me of the Kafka-esque nightmare of trying to receive enough benefits to live on and pay the rent on his tiny housing association flat. Despite applying for over fifty jobs a week, no-one wants to employ an overqualified ex-surveyor with a history of depression. Not even Tesco. His family help him out financially as much as they can but the reality is that a single unemployed man with no dependents gets next to nothing. And the benefits office, the job centre and Citizens’ Advice just don’t know what to make of him. He is rightfully bitter. No, not a medical problem, of course, but he’s a good person and it makes me sad. All human life is here.

I am cheered up by seeing another regular. This time it’s MissH who is expecting her second baby at the age of 20. It’s a while since I’ve seen her and goodness me she looks happy. You’re not supposed to have favourite patients (it’s a bit like having a favourite child I think) but secretly she’s one of mine. I feel rather maternal towards her despite the fact I’m only about ten years older. The reason is to do with breastfeeding. Despite a partner who thought breastfeeding was “disgusting”, postnatal depression, two bouts of mastitis, going back to work six months after the baby was born, and the reactions of amazed-then-bemused friends, MissH breastfed her son until he was nearly two. (Despite the the World Health Organisation advice that optimally babies should have nothing but breastmilk until the age of six months and should continue to breastfeed up to and beyond two years old, the UK statistics are dismal. According to UNICEF and the Office for National Statistics only 3% of British babies are still being breastfed at 5 months.) So whenever I see MissH and her delightful toddler, I think of a teenage single mum who has defied every expectation, and I feel very proud indeed.



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8 responses to “The Poverty Trap & Breastfeeding

  1. It is so refreshing to hear from a doctor that actually supports the WHO recommendations on breastfeeding. So many still push early solids, early weaning, formula supplements, etc. Thank you for being supportive of breastfeeding moms!

  2. I’ve never understood how anyone could call breastfeeding “disgusting”. It is kinda what breasts are for, after all. Congratulations on the mother for sticking with it – I’m sure her baby will be much healthier for it.

    Poor MrI. I have an uncle in the same sort of position.

  3. Kaz

    Great blog. I’m addicted already after 2 days, hope you keep it up.

  4. Good for her ! What a great story. When I was having my first child I didn`t quite like the idea of brdeastfeeding, in advance, though I knew it was best-feeding. The day after she was born the sister came into my room and said, ‘Now then, Breastfeeding..’ ‘Oh, er, well, I’m not really sure, I..’ ‘Nonsense dear’ she said, unbuttoned my nightie, clipped the baby on, watched for a minute or two then said, ‘Fine. No problem there.’ and swept out. And there wasn`t and I loved doing it with each of them, for about 8 months, when they decided they`d give it up, not me.
    They don`t make Sisters like that any more .. she’d probably be charged with assault !

  5. Julie

    Thanks for the post about Miss H. I breastfed both my children, exclusively until 6 months, then continued until they gave up at nearly a year. Many people are shocked and even horrified at the idea of me breastfeeding for that length of time, but I cannot imagine not doing so unless there were huge problems with it. (That’s not to say there haven’t been problems: I suffered agony uring the whole breastfeed for eight weeks with my son and five with my daughter, but was too stubborn and determined to breastfeed to give up!) Well done Miss H for doing what’s best for her baby and well done NLD for supporting her!

  6. Hooray. It can be surprising…the youngest I have seen give birth (14 – yes I know that given time I will see younger) breastfed – to everyones amazement (and delight). Whether it persisted after going home was another thing, but hey….a week (yay for colostrum) is still better than nothing.

  7. La

    I’m a few months behind as I have only just started to read this blog.

    I find is sooooo saddening that yet again there is another health professional who feels that a mother who does not exclusively breast-feed is a bad one.

    Ask any dairy farmer and they will tell you that some cows are great milkers, others are useless. If we can accept this fact about another species, why can people not accept that the same is true for humans?

    I struggled and fought to breast-feed and my husband and I watched our baby lose weight until he was hospitalised. STILL they insisted that I stick to breast-feeding only (despite the fact my nipples were bleeding and uclerated from the constant feeding). Thankfully for me, my husband has good sense and he snuck a bottle of formula into hospital and discreetly fed our son without the hospital’s consent (he is our son, after all). He ‘miraculously’ got better. During our spell in hospital, I had been told that once our son had been given a teat, he would never latch onto the breast again. Foolishly, I believed them. So, after the bottles in hospital I began to constantly express what milk I had and did so for 3 weeks so that he could have it in a bottle (as I believed he would not take the breast again). One calm day, I decided to see what would happen if I tried to latch him on again – and not surprisingly he took the breast fine.

    I then co-fed both breast and bottle for many more months, but when a health professional asked me if I was still breast-feeding, I truthfully said yes, but sneakily omited to tell them about the formula too.

    Being unable to exclusively breast-feed contributed to quite severe post-natal depression – and that was mainly due to the closed-mindedness of the health professionals who made me feel inadequate and a failure as a mother for not having sufficient milk.

    Please bear my tale in mind when you are making judgements about how a woman chooses to feed her baby – it may not actually be choice, but necessity (and done in the interest of their baby’s well-being).

  8. NiceLadyDoctor

    La – Thanks for visiting my blog.

    I’m sorry you had such a difficult time. I do want to press the point though that I don’t think that mums who don’t breastfeed are bad mothers – far from it. You have gone so much further than many women even try, and you should be rightly proud. Most women would have given up long before you did under those circumstances, and understandably so. From a public health perspective, though, I think it’s vital we do all we can to encourage people to breastfeed. I don’t know how to do that without running the risk of other mothers feeling guilty when they can’t. But I hope it will reassure you to know that there is a GP out there who tries her hardest never to judge on a woman’s perceived failings, while still congratulating and encouraging one who’s trying her hardest under difficult curcumstances (whether that be continuing to breastfeed when a baby is struggling to gain weight, or breastfeeding when all around her are unsupportive, or coming to the difficult decision that the right thing to do for her and her child is to use formula milk).

    But please read my post again – I don’t think a non breastfeeding mother is a bad one or that one who does is a good one.

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