A couple of weeks ago, Lorraine, a fellow blogger over at Gin and Cornflakes, approached me. Her 3 month old son had been admitted to Epsom hospital for suspected meningitis (thankfully he turned out to be fine). Whilst she was there she found that the policy of the NHS Trust is to only give evening meals to breastfeeding mums. Understandably she was horrified. Are the NHS discriminating against mothers who don’t breastfeed?
She asked me if I would help by retweeting and Facebooking this information. I said that I would help in any way I can, and offered her a guest post on my blog. She has written a letter to the Trust to try to get this changed but has also shared her story here. I believe that this policy is disgraceful. Over to Lorraine:
I didn’t breast feed. Either of my children. My daughter because she had a severe tongue tie and it could not be cut in the maternity ward because, we were told, the NHS has quotas and it was not her lucky day. My son simply because I did not have enough milk for him. I am sure many mothers find themselves in the same position. And I am sure many simply choose not to breastfeed. Either way, fair enough.
Or so you’d think.
Whatever your opinion on breastfeeding, in this day and age, you would not expect mothers to be treated differently because of their feeding choice. And surely organisations like, say, the NHS, would not openly discriminate in this way.
Or so you’d think.
Whilst on the children’s ward at Epsom hospital recently with my 3 month old son who was being treated for suspected meningitis, I noticed posters stating that only breastfeeding mothers were offered a meal from the food trolley in the evening. Non-breastfeeding mothers were not.
In disbelief, I tweeted Epsom & St Helier NHS Trust to see if this was indeed correct, and was told that it was. I was also told that the reason for this was that breastfeeding mothers (1) need the nutrition and (2) that they often find it difficult to leave the ward.
To me, this suggested that non-breastfeeding mothers do not need the nutrition, and have time to come and go as they please. Both of which are simply not true. This attitude is just rubbish at best; discriminatory and insensitive at worst. I have written to the NHS suggesting that this apparent policy is reviewed. Below is a summary of my arguments. If you agree, a comment at the end may well go towards helping to get this attitude changed.
1) Nutrition: firstly, I don’t suggest that every carer is offered a meal at the hospital, just the primary carer who is at the hospital for the majority of the time. ALL such parents/carers need nutrition when coping with the distressing and exhausting situation of looking after a sick child away from home. There is rarely a moment to even think about looking after oneself. NHS advice is to ensure that you eat well when caring for a baby or child. The apparent policy is certainly not in line with this advice. If an exhausted carer has not eaten, how can they take on sometimes complicated medical information, and make important decisions regarding the treatment of their sick child? In extreme cases a carer may become ill due to not eating, meaning that they would need to be treated too.
2) Time: it is simply not correct in every case to say that only breastfeeding mothers need more time to feed their babies. One example is bottle feeding a baby suffering from reflux. Furthermore, just on account of being ill some babies may take longer to feed – whether breastfed or not.
3) Support of family unit: after speaking to my son’s nurse on the ward, I understand that the ward aims to support the whole family unit not just the sick child. This policy is clearly not conducive to achieving that aim. What if the carer’s partner works and can’t bring food? What if the partner is looking after siblings? What about single mums? And single dads for that matter? More people nowadays live away from family and have no-one else to help out. And what about gay adoptive parents? Gay men simply cannot breastfeed. And, whilst I am no expert in the laws surrounding discrimination, it is not entirely out of the realms of possibility that a discrimination claim may be sought in this regard.
4) Distress of both mother and baby: my child was 3 months old, and was ill. He was in a strange place, needing reassurance and constant love and attention. By leaving him on his own on the ward, or with people he did not recognise, to go and get food had the potential to cause him distress at a time when he was poorly. As far as the mother is concerned, it is simply not fair to discriminate on the grounds of whether she breastfeeds or not. Many mums want to breastfeed but find that they cannot through no fault of their own. Such mums may find this distressing as they had their heart set on it.
5) Epsom & St Helier NHS trust, in their tweet back to me, made the point that a microwave and fridge was provided on the ward for non breastfeeding mums. Yes, but that still involves having the food to microwave or put in said fridge. Some mothers may not have the opportunity to go to the shops. I was admitted to the ward late afternoon, not expecting to be so – I had nothing with me nor any time to nip out to Tescos. Nor may they have people to bring such food (see 3) above). Also, the NHS promotes healthy eating so surely it would not promote living off of ready meals?
Now, I would be naive if I didn’t know that the reason for such policy was cost. But I would argue that a price cannot be put on the benefit to carers of an evening meal, and therefore the consequent benefit to the sick child. I would also argue that the cost saving made by not offering non-breast feeding mothers a meal does not outweigh the distress such policy could cause.
I also would be unrealistic if I suggested that every family member should be offered food. However, it would be reasonable to offer a meal to the primary carer at the hospital. I suggested that a solution would be to ask the carer in the morning whether they require a meal in the evening, but request (in a diplomatic way) that if they do have support from friends and family that they provide their own food and that meals are left for those who really need them. I am sure mothers would support each other in this way.
I am hoping for a positive response from the NHS. So far I have been told that someone is looking in to whether this is indeed Trust policy. I am not nornally someone who gets so blinking annoyed about something that I devote my time to getting it changed. However, I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels strongly about this. If you do, please do leave a message of support.
And a big thank you to Vic. Seeing as her glorious blog has been quite rightly nominated for the Most Innovative award in the past couple of years, it certainly seemed fitting for me to ask her if I could invade her blog with my rant; and I am very flattered that she let me!
Lorraine blogs at Gin and Cornflakes
She is on Twitter: https://twitter.com/gin_cornflakes
She is on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GinCornflakes