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The horrors of breastfeeding

This is the short, sad story of a first-time mother going through hell, breastfeeding her baby, because of the serial failure of nurses in the delivery unit to listen to her and take her problem seriously.

The baby boy was not feeding early on, and the response to this by two nurses was rather brutally to shove the nipple into the baby's mouth and hold it there. The baby started feeding, but the mother experienced great pain, not much reassured by yet another nurse who told her that discomfort at first was not unusual. During her two days' stay in the delivery unit, her pain as intense as ever, the mother's problem was largely neglected by a total of ten different nurses, whose advice, such as it was, was various and contradictory. No-one attended to or addressed the question of the mother's pain; no-one stayed and watched her technique or the position of the baby in an effort to analyse the problem and teach her how to do the job.

After two days she returned home, where the pain continued and she shortly developed painful lesions; feeding the baby became an even worse nightmare.

The mother discovered that there was a specialist breastfeeding unit at the very hospital where she had been, and, after several phone calls and a couple of visits, the problem was discussed and understood. Her breasts healed, and with new technique she was able to feed the baby normally, and with pleasure - a pleasure she had been deprived of through seven weeks of misery and pain.

The mother said to the author: 'Why couldn't the delivery staff have given me this advice from the beginning? It's really distressing when you've just had a baby and the whole world is upside down, to be confronted with so much contradictory advice and so little help.'

We can only echo the mother's question: what can possibly explain such multiple failures in nursing care? It's hard to know, but one might speculate that the delivery unit was staffed by people who saw their job solely in the most basic technical and medical terms (a production-line), excluding anything that required a human relationship to understand and resolve problems - a complete absence of humanity and empathy.

The situation of post-natal care is another of those in which we can see how vital good nursing care is, well beyond the simple physical well-being of mother and baby - here is a chance to treasure and enhance the experience of motherhood; to share in the turmoil and confusion and joy of the time; where appropriate, to teach and advise; to give the mother support and confidence and optimism about the huge undertaking she has ahead of her. There are few more exciting and important processes in the whole of healthcare, and they are more or less exclusively the preserve of nurses.

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