Reality check

Bella Dale, specialist midwife for antenatal education and
infant feeding at Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals, set up a
specialist support network for a small but high-need group of
mothers three years ago, with extraordinary results. The
breastfeeding rate on discharge for teenage mums is now 95%,
compared to 69% of all mothers nationally.

Explaining the success of the teenage mums group, Dale says: “Early
on, two mums who helped us educate pregnant women about
breastfeeding went on to train to become peer supporters, which
made a big difference. After that, girls kept on coming back

“I wish I could take the credit, but the young mothers returning
with their babies were such amazing role models that the pregnant
girls began to think that maybe breastfeeding wasn’t so difficult
or strange after all. A lot use bottles at three months and
onwards, but they do give a really good four to six weeks of
breastfeeding first.

“We believe you should talk in exactly the same way to everyone.
I’ll speak in the same way to a girl of 15 as I would to a woman of
35 who had been planning her pregnancy for years. If you treat
people properly, they will listen.

“We empower people ante-natally and then put the message across
bluntly. I don’t do physiology of lactation and I don’t do playing
with dollies – that’s just patronising.

“You can’t force people either. All we’re saying is that the
information’s out there. If you have a go and it doesn’t work then
at least you gave it a go.”

Dale also has a pager on seven days a week for any mother having a
wobble to call. “It is passion and commitment to go the extra mile
that is behind our success,” she says. “I firmly believe that every
woman has the right to the opportunity to breastfeed her child and
every baby deserves the love to be breastfed.”

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