Midwives must respect a woman’s decision not to breastfeed her baby, says the Royal College of Midwives in a new position statement on the hotly-debated topic.
While the document is clear the RCM believes exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is the “most appropriate method of infant feeding”, it also stresses the need to respect a woman’s right to choose whether she breastfeeds or not.
“We recognise that some women cannot or do not wish to breastfeed”
“As with other areas of maternity care, midwives and maternity support workers should promote informed choice,” said the position statement.
It added: “If, after being given appropriate information, advice and support on breastfeeding, a woman chooses not to do so, or to give formula as well as breastfeeding, her choice must be respected.”
The statement comes amid concern that mothers may be put under pressure or made to feel like they have somehow “failed” if they do not breastfeed.
However, there is also concern that midwife shortages and cuts to maternity care mean many are not getting the support to continue breastfeeding leading to low rates across the UK.
As well as ensuring mothers get information and advice on breastfeeding, the position statement highlights the need for maternity service to be properly staffed and funded.
“Maternity units must be appropriately staffed and sufficient investment made in postnatal care to enable each woman to get the support and advice she needs to make informed choices about feeding her baby,” it said.
The statement also stresses the need for student midwives to learn key skills to help mothers start and carrying on breastfeeding.
The document says it is important breastfeeding mothers feel welcome and able to breastfeed in public, following high profile incidents where mothers have been asked not to breastfeed in restaurants and other venues.
“Breastfeeding mothers should feel supported and respected by wider society; providers of services, facilities or premises that are open to the public have a responsibility to ensure that women are able to breastfeed in public place,” it said.
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RCM chief executive Gill Walton said women should not be made to feel “guilty or embarrassed” about breastfeeding in public and said educating the public was key.
Meanwhile, she said the same went for those who decided not to breastfeed who also needed support and advice from midwives.
“We recognise that some women cannot or do not wish to breastfeed and rely on formula milk,” said Ms Walton.
“They must be given all the advice and support they need on safe preparation of bottles and responsive feeding to develop a close and loving bond with their baby,” she said.
Ms Walton also highlighted the need for investment in postnatal care. “There must be more investment in postnatal care services and specialist midwives to enable each woman to get the support and advice she needs to make informed choices about feeding her baby,” she said.