17 November 2009

A Tour of the Breastfeeding Unit

When I was 36 weeks pregnant with my second child we were booked on a tour of the maternity unit at our local hospital. I wasn't sure it was worth going as I'd imagined all hospitals were the same clinical, impersonal, yet dirty places.

As we had recently moved to the area we decided to go on the tour, just to get our bearings.

There was plenty of car-parking and reasonably priced too! There were bays near the entrance for mums in labour. After a short walk we entered the maternity unit. It was light and airy. It didn't smell like a hospital. It was clean without smelling of disinfectant.

We were greeted by a cheery midwife named Sue . She welcomed us all (there were five couples on the tour) and told us to ask as many questions as we liked.

We saw the wards first. They were bright and spotlessly clean. Midwives chatted with new mums and cooed over newborn babies.

We heard a loud moan and saw a woman in labour being pushed by in a wheelchair. 'She's on her way to the delivery suite', said Sue, 'that's where we're going next'.

The delivery suite was a picture of calm efficiency. There were many delivery rooms. Each room had a large birthing pool, mats on the floor, bean bags and birthing balls. Sue showed us how to dim the lights. She also mentioned that all essential medical equipment was at hand, but not in full view. The room was cosy and private.

'Follow me', said Sue, 'we're very proud of the next unit'. We approached a new wing called The Breastfeeding Unit. It was next to the maternity ward. I hadn't seen one of these before.

In The Breastfeeding Unit were several large rooms. In each room were a few breastfeeding chairs and stools. There were pillows of all shapes and sizes. There was also a bed.

Sue explained to us that new mothers could come here, away from the ward, and learn to breastfeed. There were five full time, fully trained, breastfeeding specialists working on the unit. Sue had arranged for us to see a breastfeeding specialist in action. She was helping a new mum to feed her newborn son. The new mum was happy for us to watch.

The breastfeeding specialist, Kath, explained that the most important part of learning to breastfeed was for the mother and baby to feel relaxed and comfortable. Kath helped the new mum get comfortable. She laid a pillow on her lap and handed her the baby. We could see the baby was hungry so Kath explained exactly how to attach the baby to the breast. This took a few attempts, but each time Kath patiently advised the new mum what she should do next. Once the baby was feeding well, Kath passed the new mum a glass of water.

This was a revelation to me. Kath didn't grab the new mum's breast or force open the baby's mouth and shove the two together (as had been my experience of being 'taught' how to breastfeed).

Kath said that the mums could spend as long as they liked in the unit. It was manned around the clock and a breastfeeding specialist was always available to help, with every feed if necessary.

'What happens when you go home?', I asked. Sue took over again and led us to another part of the unit. 'Here's the day clinic', she said, 'you can come back - every day if you need to - for as long as you like. You never have to wait long, there are always plenty of staff.'.

'We're so proud of our breastfeeding rates, they're more than double the national average'. Sue was beaming. I started to cry, for joy. This time I would get the help I needed.


So, where is this wonderful hospital?

I'm sorry to disappoint you. It doesn't exist. I made it up.

But wouldn't it be BRILLIANT?!

This post was written for the Sleep is for the weak writing workshop #5.

The prompt I chose was 3. What would you like to see in your ideal hospital?



  1. Ninewells hospital which I use is close to this. We actually have posters in our local shopping centre about how good breastfeeding is. Once on the ward there is a breastfeeding specialist that works with everyone and the midwives were fabulous. The worked tirelessly with the mothers helping make their feeding succesful. All through the night if necessary. They even got hold of pumps to help get things started. There are many bad things about Ninewells as a hospital but the maternity unit is not one of those. I had no problems myself but from pregnancy, through to birth, through to the midwives daily visits for 2 weeks after and then the health visitors weekly visit, the care is exemplary

  2. That's cheeky, making it up. I liked it!

  3. very good and yes it would be wonderful. However having a specialist attached by a piece of elastic to your front door would be better that way you wouldn't even need to get dressed and leave the house you could just pull on the elastic and twang them back when ever you felt like it. And maybe a cook, cleaner and child entertainer on another piece of elastic haha xx

  4. That actually made me cry. To be fair, our midwife-led unit is reasonably close to this. I should have stayed there longer than a day, really, instead of assuming I knew it all and running off home.

    What a lovely picture you have drawn, though.

  5. It pays to dream sometimes, someone might be listening, but I knew it couldnt be real when the affordable car parking was mentioned!

  6. Great post!

    I was surprised by all of the signs promoting breastfeeding which were displayed around the hospital unit we used. Not knowing much about this sort of thing, I'd always assumed that more or less everyone breastfed, and didn't understand why it was being so obviously forced down our throats as it were.

    I was talking about this to our Health Visitor, and she said that in our area (central-ish Manchester) most 'local' mums (that is to say, white British mums) DON'T breastfeed, while generally mums from other backgrounds do.

    She blamed the popularity of formula back in the 1970s for creating a generation of women who didn't breastfeed, and are now unable to help their daughters or daughters-in-law with it. Although there are breastfeeding support groups and so on, coverage is pretty patchy, and lots of women are left basically on their own. So it's no surprise many switch to formula in the early days and never go back.

    Our little girl's been on a combination of breastfeeding, expressed milk and formula, and luckily for us she seems happy with it all, which will be really useful once my wife's back at work and I'm on my own with her. Hopefully we'll get the same good luck if we have more children in the future!

  7. I have to say I read your post thinking "this has got to be a load of b0llocks...". So smugly not surprised to realise that it was precisely that (aka very well written fiction - because it's brilliantly written and very convincing). Had I not been at London's premier maternity hospital, given (as per the governmental requirements) all the advice about breast-feeding and its benefits, only to be told, when I said I was planning on exclusively breastfeeding my twins "oh, you can't do that, here's some formula, and no, we won't help you try"... I might have believed it. For the record, they came off the formula on day 4 (once home) and were exclusively breastfed for the following six months...

    But yes, you're right, it would be WONDERFUL.

  8. Yes it would be brilliant....how easy it would be to do and yet so so far away. Great post. :0)

  9. Great post! They certainly should have this sort of unit. If the WHO are sooo keen on mothers breastfeeding exclusively they should be encouraging the goverment to put more funding into hospitals to provide this sort of support. I've spoken many a times about my struggle with toddler to breastfeed and how by following my own instincts with baby girl have managed to exclussively breastfeed her for almost 6 months and counting. Fantastic piece of writing Sandy! x

  10. I was reading along thinking, wow, this is great, this is wonderful! I completely agree though. So much emphasis is placed on the importance of breastfeeding but the support doesn't seem to be there to back up the idea. I think a lot of my breastfeeding problems could have been eliminated with some good help early on. Nice post.

  11. great post. I was so excited reading it and was looking forward to you revealing its location. Should have known better i guess.

  12. Oh, you tease! I was so excited thinking "Where is this fantastic place?!" I shoud've known it was a fantasy. Shame though because it's exactly what maternity units need.

  13. This is, quite possibly, the greatest idea I have EVER read. Funnily enough it made me cry like Tasha - mostly because I knew what an enormous difference it would have made to me and to so many mums that I know.

    I'm sorry I'm so late commenting on this! Loving your workshop posts - keep em coming lady xxxx

  14. I found the La Leche League books very helpful with my breastfeeding. I had no real help either, and no access to LLL, but with the help of grim determination and the LLL books, I successfully breastfed all four babies in terms of years not months!

  15. I totally believed this right up until you said '5 full time, fully trained...' and then I got it! Great post.

  16. I hope I didn't offend anyone by not making it clear at the beginning that this was a fantasy. I thought it would have more impact if I only revealed t at the end. Sorry if you were misled.

    Dawn, how lucky to have such a wonderful maternity unit.

    Mwa, good, I'm glad :-)

    Straw76berry, oh yes, I definitely need staff. I could employ someone full time just to pick up after my boys! :-)

    Tasha, sorry, I didn't mean to make you cry. I had high risk pregnancies so the midwife led unit was out of the question for me. I'm so glad you managed to keep feeding Eleanor x

    The Mad House, ha! I wondered whether anyone would guess when I mentioned the parking!

    Richard, I think your HV is spot on. I was bottle fed and my mum couldn't understand how desperate I was to breastfeed. I'm so glad you've worked out what suits you and fingers crossed for number two!

    Plan B, hehe, b0llocks indeed! I take my hat off to you for tandem feeding. One of my NCT friends breastfed her twins too and they both started out in the SCBU. I was in awe as I struggled to feed one baby.

    Chic Mama, thank you, it seems pretty straightforward to me!

    Laura, you're absolutely right. It seems some hospitals pay lip service to supporting breastfeeding by displaying the posters but not backing it up with any real help. Well done you x

    Book Collection, thank you.

    Lady Mama, thank you. You're so right. In my experience the midwives leave you alone if it looks like you're feeding your baby. Such a shame.

    Snaffles Mummu, sorry, I really wish I hadn't had to make it up.

    Noble Savage, you're right. I think it would make all the difference to those who want to breastfeed and are struggling.

    Josie, thank you. I'm sorry it made you cry. It really would help so many mothers. LOVING your writing workshop! x

    Gaelikaa, well done, I really admire that you managed to do that just by reading about it.

    Not Such a Yummy Mummy, thanks :-)

  17. I was thinking "wow" and "is that how they do it over the pond?" and was quickly becoming very jealous. Great story.

    I'm a mom of two babes one year a apart, too!

  18. Hi Lindsey, thank you, I wish it was real. Hard work isn't it?!


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