Being admitted to hospital as a breastfeeding mum is something lots of mummies in our parenting community worry about.
If your admission is within the first 6 weeks of having your baby and it’s something related to pregnancy & birth, you’ll usually be admitted onto the post natal ward where they’re equipped for your baby alongside you, but what about after this time, and if you’re admitted onto a general ward?
One of my lovely friends, currently breastfeeding her one year old, recently had a bad experience with one of our local hospitals when she was admitted for surgery, which has prompted me to look into this topic more closely.
- What rights to breastfeeding mums have when admitted to hospital?
- Are there any official policies protecting breastfeeding mums when admitted to hospital?
I spoke to Emma, the chair of the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers about this quandary – are there any laws, guidelines or official protocols in place to protect breastfeeding mums when they’re admitted as inpatients?
“There isn’t any national official guidance or protocols. Nationally there is an enormous amount of variation and there may even be variation from hospital to hospital or even ward to ward or day to day depending on which staff are on duty.
In some cases, staff will make an effort to find space for a toddler or baby breastfeeding. In other spaces, a family member may be able to bring a child in for feeds. In other spaces, there will be no consideration at all. In some hospitals, someone breastfeeding a toddler will be praised and cared for. In other hospitals, they will be told that they should have stopped. There is such a mess.
Every trust develops its own protocol. Here are a couple. One where baby will be encouraged to stay with you. One where they won’t (unless you are in the postnatal ward).”
This is pretty enlightening, and also a bit sad – it seems very inconsistent. Many of our breastfeeding mums feel that hospital policies should be consistent across the NHS, and be more supportive of breastfeeding mummies, which we can definitely agree with! She also went on to add…
“If a mother is unwell and her child is with her, this obviously does bring practical considerations. It will put an increased burden on staff so you can sort of understand where it is sometimes coming from. But it would definitely be prioritised if breastfeeding was better understood and if people appreciated ending breastfeeding or reducing breastfeeding can often have a negative impact on the mum’s physical and mental health.”
Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that depending on what ward you’re on, there may be some infectious patients and risks to baby that mean the hospital simply cannot accommodate your baby with you (unless there’s a free side room), so there are definitely practical implications to consider, although like Emma states above, if breastfeeding was better understood, there would be protocols to reduce this risk and accommodate everyone.
So, what can I do if I’m admitted to hospital when breastfeeding?
If you have elective surgery upcoming, or just want to be prepared for the instance that you end up admitted without warning in future, these tips could help you to be prepared…
- Find out the breastfeeding policies of your local hospital. These can usually be found on their website. Ring them if you’re unsure!
- If their policy indicates that you won’t be admitted to the post natal ward, ask for their policies on accessing a pump, having your baby to stay with you on a general ward/side room, or having baby visit for regular feedings, in writing so that you can show staff should you encounter any inconsistency when admitted.
- If you’ll need to pump, enquire about milk storage. You should be able to access the storage fridges in the post natal ward (or have a nurse take it down), if you have issues accessing this, speak to someone senior or contact PALS.
- Make sure you’re mindful of symptoms of mastitis. Should you encounter any resistance, remind staff that mastitis can be serious.
- Nominate someone to bring you a pump if you’re admitted in an emergency situation, or even ask in your local community/parenting/breastfeeding Facebook groups – you’d be surprised how many local breastfeeding mummies would want to help you!
With such inconsistent policies, we can understand that it must be pretty confusing and scary. Our best advice would be to clue yourself up on your hospitals own policies, be assertive, and be prepared. We’d love to look back at this in the next year and think ‘wow, things have definitely improved for breastfeeding inpatients’, so let’s keep raising awareness and normalising breastfeeding.
Love from Team BBY! Xx