Are the NHS Discriminating Against Mothers Who Don’t Breastfeed? A Guest Post.

Are the NHS Discriminating Against Mothers Who Don’t Breastfeed? A Guest Post.

622916_87192004A 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!

1003265_555919304444898_659939393_nLorraine blogs at Gin and Cornflakes

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  1. December 7, 2014 / 7:28 am

    I can’t believe what I just read! (Although I believe it!). As pointed out in the post, the NHS are trying to encourage people to eat better and to look after themselves, but can only manage an evening meal for breast feeding Mums, who are there to look after their little ones. I know as a Mum I would forfeit eating rather than leave my ill and distressed child alone and I am sure that most Mums feel the same way.

    If it is a matter of saving money, then surely it is in the NHS’s best interest to help keep the primary care giver of a sick child fit and healthy? And they do promote healthy eating as one way of staying fit and healthy!…The mind boggles!


  2. Lorraine
    December 5, 2014 / 9:44 am

    Thanks very much to all who read and commented on this post. It is very much appreciated. Hopefully I can get somewhere with the nhs. Lxxx

  3. November 29, 2014 / 3:09 pm

    That’s a hard situation. I know I breastfed both of my kids and we were in and out of the hospital for various reasons and I was never allow food only the kids if they were old enough on the child’s ward. I dont’ know the hospital or nhs policys being an expat and all but I can imagine that felt horrible and very much like discrimination especially how they worded it that it was because you weren’t breastfeeding which isn’t right. Great guest post. Thanks for linking to Share With Me. I hope to see you again next week. #sharewithme

  4. November 27, 2014 / 5:17 pm

    When I read this I can not comment right up. I have to step back and analyze things more before I comment. I really appreciate NHS here. In my country you can never be admitted to a hospital right up. We dont have emergency vans, we dont have free medicines.

    There are free hospitals and the beds are 1 meter apart from each other. No free food. When you have a baby you are in charge of everything that is needed. It is bad.

    When I got here I was so amaze on how things are free. Medicines, doctors and hospital and even operations on people and kids when needed.

    As a foreigner I dont understand much about the system yet. I can see that there are budget shortages.

    I got in this country earlier than planned because my son needs medical attention that my country cant give. My husband decided that he gets that medical needs here.

    Being a mother in a hospital before I really appreciate that I have family to help me while I stay in the hospital while we are waiting for my son’s biopsy results. Otherwise I dont know how id be.

    I was breastfeeding my son and theres no food offered to me then.

    And I dont think parents on the other beds were offered any as well.

    But I would definitely appreciate it if there is a free food. Saves time and we can concentrate on my son. And of course I would expect that everyone would get it.

    I really dont know where I stand here. But you really do need an explanation. I think that they owe that to you.


  5. November 26, 2014 / 9:18 pm

    This is a tricky one for me and maybe because I breastfeed but maybe because I never assumed meals would be served to me in the hospital. Even when I had Elsie I had to get my husband to bring me some food as I missed breakfast due to being with Elsie when she needed some special attention on the heated trolley. I was starving and had food bought from M&S downstairs. That said I do think its wrong to discriminate this way- a parent staying over is a carer and should therefore be fed just the same. But I guess they are trying to save money wherever they can. I’d always take my own food or buy it I think x
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  6. November 26, 2014 / 2:49 pm

    I’m so glad someone has written about this. I had a slightly different situation but I think it’s relevant as part of the NHS’s policy.
    I had a c-section with my youngest and was obviously bed bound initially. We had to formula feed as I had some ongoing breast problems. Even though we explained our reasons to the nurses I was treated very badly over my daughters feeds. The NHS no longer provides formula on the wards, fair enough. However, they also force you to get up (as soon as the catheter is out) and make it yourself, the kitchen being a good walk along a very long corridor. Once my husband went home this became a nightmare. No exceptions given to a woman with staples holding her groin together, they also made me leave my hours old baby alone and crying while they watched me shuffle in agony to the kitchen in the middle of the night, no one even helped me to steady myself. I was treated like a leper. I didn’t expect to be waited on hand and foot but I do think it was their place to at least help. Perhaps even offer a moment of compassion.
    Breastfeeding should absolutely be encouraged but not at the expense of people who can’t (or legitimately just don’t want to). Starving people on the wards as they watch over their sick children doesn’t seem like a very humane policy. I don’t know many anxious parents who would leave their child’s side to go and have a meal.
    Great post.
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  7. November 26, 2014 / 9:10 am

    When my daughter was in PICU after she was born, the hospital policy was to provide meals to breastfeeding mothers until their babies were 10 days old and I can only assume that the reason behind this was to help support getting breastfeeding established by helping to ensure the mother took in enough calories to help her produce milk (which does increase the mother’s calorie requirements). I can see an argument for doing this if you are trying to help support and facilitate breastfeeding (although I still had to leave the ward to go and eat the meal so in some respects it was no different really to having to go down to the cafeteria). I can see your argument that this is discriminatory in some ways, however if my baby had been on formula, that would have been provided by the hospital during that time and so I think I see it more as them trying to help my baby have milk rather than necessarily helping me because of the time-frame involved.

    That said, once those 10 days were over, I definitely had a period of time where I didn’t look after myself and get food regularly enough and my milk supply did diminish for a bit (which made me realise the importance of making sure I looked after myself where I could too).

    I completely agree with the idea of providing one meal a day to the primary carer with a child – it would have made things a lot easier from our perspective but I suspect that with NHS budgets being stretched, it’s unlikely to happen. On the hospital stays where Jessica was older and able to eat, I often found myself eating the leftovers of her meals (although thankfully friends and family were often very good at bringing in food parcels so I didn’t have to leave her too often).

  8. Lorraine
    November 24, 2014 / 3:38 pm

    Thanks, Vic, for posting this. The policy was not explained to me, I was told simply that food was only for the children. The fact food was provided to breastfeeding mothers only was communicated via two posters in the ward kitchen. I didn’t want or need the food as my partner was able to help out. However, this might not always be the case for other, and it was the policy in itself that I do not think is right. Nutrition for the baby is only one aspect of it.

    • Lorraine
      November 24, 2014 / 3:59 pm

      Crikey that was terrible English on my part there 🙂 Wrote response in a rush… Anyway, what I mean is that I understand why the policy might be (ie feeding the patient) but it has to be possible to derogate from this in the interests of that patient eg it was not in the interests of my baby to leave him on his own whilst I went to get food, nor could I take him with me. Whilst I myself did not need the food, there will be many many who do, for those reasons.

  9. November 24, 2014 / 3:12 pm

    I’m going back a few years now, when my son was only 5weeks old he was in hospital and as I was breastfeeding him I was allowed to stay with him. I was offered hospital meals because I was breastfeeding – it was explained to me that it’s simply a case of my son being an nhs patient and for my son to eat I have to eat – I was simply a part of the food chain – I had to eat the nhs meal in order for my baby to eat the nhs meal he was entitled to as a patient. If he was bottlefed then the hospital would have provided the formula, bottle warming and sterilise the bottles. If I had been bottle feeding and the hospital were offering to provide everything then I wouldn’t have expected or been entitled to a patient meal. I think it really does depend on the hospital policy and how it was explained to you. The way you’ve described does sound unfair but the way it was explained to me in my situation seemed acceptable.
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    • November 24, 2014 / 8:05 pm

      I don’t want to sound patronising but it may have seemed reasonable to you because you were one of the ones being well taken care of while you cared for your child. You might have felt differently if you had been trapped in hospital with a sick infant, the cafe closed for the evening, and no partner or family to hand to bring in food as happened to me recently. In fact, more than once I have rushed to hospital in an ambulance with a child who was subsequently admitted, and I haven’t actually had any money on me even to get a cup of coffee to sustain me through hours and hours on the ward with a sick child.

      As both a single adoptive parent, and a foster carer (mainly for babies), I am obviously unable to breastfeed any of the children I care for, yet this does not mean that my children are fine to be left alone in a strange place with strangers when they are sick. Indeed, many of the little ones I care for are more in need of their carer present at these scary times because of what they have been through before.

      I don’t particularly have an objection to paying for my food while staying in hospital, but could they not arrange for, say, a trolley of food/snacks to be brought up from the cafe to the ward for purchase by carers? Then breastfeeding mums would not need to leave their babies and they could pay like the rest of us. Perhaps they could allow us to run up a tab that we could settle at a later date?
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  10. Dominique Simpson
    November 24, 2014 / 10:26 am

    I couldn’t agree more with this post. I was unable to breastfeed as our son was so hungry I just couldn’t keep up with him. I certainly felt like some sort of pariah who was failing her child. I recently worked in a Children’s Centre and was appalled at all the literature aimed at women to breastfeed, with absolutely no consideration for the women who can’t for whatever reason. It is not always through personal choice and this is so often over looked. Luckily I had a really supportive midwife but in my experience these are far too few and far between.
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