Many new mothers are being told not to bottle feed because it will ruin breastfeeding, but an increasing number are being left with babies so dehydrated they need emergency hospital care.
Experts have reported that hundreds of newborn babies suffering from dehydration are being re-admitted to hospital as mothers are being warned not to resort to bottle-feeding. They explain that the 'breast is best' message has left many women unwilling to use formula milk even as a back up when their babies are not feeding properly.
It was also reported that the acute scarcity of midwives also means that new mothers are not getting the appropriate support they need to confidently breastfeed, due to which many newborns increasingly risk becoming dangerously dehydrated.
Dr Ganesan Subramaniam, a Paediatrician, who had worked in the NHS for 35 years and now practises in Bushey, Hertfordshire, said many hospitals are now days treating a baby a week for dehydration. This when seen, as a larger picture would sum up to 250 babies admitted for emergency treatment around the country.
Speaking to the press, he said, "It is a major problem and it is increasing, breastfeeding is best but it is dangerous to say, don't use formula at any stage."
He also added that "Dehydration can cause renal failure and severe jaundice can lead to brain damage. What is not helpful is this militant attitude of breastfeeding or nothing." It was explained that the problem usually sets in within the first couple of days of the babies life, and many of the new mothers fail to realise that their child is not feeding properly.
Explaining that when the babies, who could be unfed or underfed, eventually cry themselves to sleep, and when it wakes up for its next feed, would have less energy and hence will not cry for so long. This cycle after 3 to 4 failed feeds would make the baby so tired and dehydrated that it would eventually sleep through its feeding time, which the mother would mistake as a sign of being full or not hungry. Clare Byam-Cook, who is a retired midwife and the author of 'What To Expect When You Are Breastfeeding', said that there was no doubt that lack of advice on breastfeeding was putting babies' health at risk. She is of the belief that even half a day of not feeding the baby properly would be an enough cause for dehydration. She felt that certain larger hospitals treat almost three cases of dehydrated babies a week.
She further said, "I have seen mothers who have got three or four-day-old babies who have been sent home from hospital and the midwife has said the baby will get the hang of breastfeeding by itself. What makes the midwife think that when the mother gets home it will suddenly work? Everyone seems to think that because it is natural everyone can do it. But pregnancy is natural and not everyone can do that."
Many experts are also of the opinion that women are not getting enough support from midwives, while they were at the hospital and also after returning home. It was also reported that at least 1 in 3 hospitals were cutting down on their maternity care budget and more than half the trusts are not replacing midwives who leave. It was also mentioned that in many areas less training was being imparted to the midwives and that the new mothers are receiving visits by them at their homes.
Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), said, "We have to be shown how to use a knife and fork and women need to learn how to breastfeed. Midwives do not have the time to spend with women and we don't train our midwives well enough on breastfeeding."
Breast milk boosts health, providing protection against infection, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The process might also help the bond between the mother and baby and may reduce a mother's risk of breast cancer. It was explained though that the babies might, however, find bottle-feeding easier, as it requires lesser energy and effort.
Women, who are having difficulty breastfeeding, are advised by the NCT to seek help from their midwife, from the charity or from another experienced mother. They also explain that id no such help was readily available than they should try and feed their baby with breast milk that was expressed into a bottle. The Department of Health has recommended that the mothers should feed their babies breast milk alone for least six months to ensure they get the best start in life. It was also mentioned that in spite of this recommendations, UK has one of the lowest rates in Europe, with statistics showing just two-thirds of the new mothers trying it, as compared with 98% in Sweden.