Interview with Emma Pickett- Lactation Consultant
I think it's really important for practitioners to work in an integrated way, as you can address things from all directions and offer the most complete care to your clients. I came across Emma Pickett online, by reading one of her articles on breastfeeding. I got in touch to introduce myself, and by chance she works in my local area of North London. We met for a cuppa a while ago and I found her full of facts and statistics whilst being sensitive and human too- a rare combination! She kindly agreed to be interviewed about breastfeeding and her work as a breastfeeding counsellor and lactation consultant. Here are her responses:
What made you passionate about breastfeeding?
I think it’s hard for anyone not to be shaped by their own experiences. For me, breastfeeding was a big part of my own mothering. It was a special part of my children’s early months and years. And when I see the pain in mothers who desperately want to breastfeed, and can’t make it happen, it’s very hard not to feel passionate. It’s partly about a passion for breastfeeding itself but perhaps more about helping mothers to achieve their goals and to be able to look back on their own mothering without any regrets.
What would you say to a new mum who was struggling to breastfeed?
That I know this is hard. I know it is supposed to be easy and ‘natural’ and when everyone tells you how wonderful it is that can feel insensitive and awful when for you it is anything but wonderful. I would also say that there are people who want to help you. They will help you as much as they can and if they still can’t help you resolve your issues, at least you will have given it your best shot. No one can ask more of you. Sometimes those people aren’t easy to find but they are then through helplines and social media and your local health professionals.
What are some myths about breastfeeding that you’d like to break?
Myth number 1: Breastfeeding is a milk delivery system. That comfort feeding is ‘bad’. Frequent feeding is ‘wrong’ and a baby that wants to stay in your arms is ‘spoilt’. Babies want to breastfeed for a thousand different reasons and a lot of it is about a teeny person entering the world and wanting to stick close. And that’s OK.
Myth number 2: Breastfeeding needs to be measured by the clock. I don’t know any adult who says, “I’m thirsty. I’d like a drink of water but I need to wait 20 minutes.” Yet we expect babies (attempting to double their weight in about 4 months) to ‘wait’ for no logical reason. If mums think that stretching the intervals between feeds will make their lives easier, they need more support to learn about how milk supply works and they need more support to manage life with a new baby.
What do you think the health service and government could do more of to support breastfeeding?
The English government is particularly lacking in leadership and this filters down to what’s happening to women and their families every day.
Cuts are happening; children centres are closing; jobs are vacant; health visiting services are under threat now that local authorities fund health visiting. It needs to be acknowledged that when everyone who wants to breastfeed gets to, it saves us all money. Fewer babies are hospitalised in the first year of life with infections and the NHS saves millions.
Increasing the breastfeeding in neonatal units from 35% to 75% could save £6.12 million per year by reducing the incidence of necrotising enterocolitis.
To save £21 million from breast cancer, breastfeeding rates for women would have to halve the number who have never breastfed (from 32% to 16%) and double the number of women who breastfeed for 7 to 18 months (from 16% to 32%).
If that was all taken on board, surely the helplines should be funded 24 hours and the groups should not be closing?
As a country, mothers also lack rights in the workplace. We need laws that give women the right to express milk back at work (92 countries worldwide have laws like these, we don’t).
I could say a lot more on this question but I better let you catch a breath!
I’m in awe of how long and extensive the training to become a lactation consultant is. What does the training involve?
It varies depending on your professional background. In my case, I started 90 hours of training. Then 1000 hours of support. Then took 6 hours of exams. Every 5 years, I either retake the exam or do 75 hours of additional education (last time I recertified with more than 100 hours). Now another 14 health sciences courses are needed in addition to the lactation education.
Are there any times you’ve been wowed by a woman’s determination to breastfeed?
Every day. I have a thousand faces in my mind: the mother who expressed for a year, the mother re-lactating, the mother in pain with visible damage that appears unimaginable, the mother whose baby wouldn’t feed for weeks for no explicable reasons and she kept trying and one day he did! So so many mothers and their partners supporting them.
Thanks Emma for your time intelligence and passion for supporting women to breastfeed.