I am a 51 year old working mum of five – not all at home thank goodness. Im a member of the Women for Independence National Executive. This Blog is growing and changing as my hopes and aspirations change. I actually DO expect to change the world but I accept that might not even make sense sometimes. I hope you enjoy the read.

Archive for the month “November, 2017”

Breast may be best but are we doing OUR best for mums?

This was originally published a few years ago so state might be a bit out of date.

am a mother. I have five children ages 27,26, 21, 8 and 6, I am totally committed to doing the best for my children and I want for all children in society, what I want  for my own – a happy, healthy, nurturing home.  There were lots of differences in having my first baby in 1989 and my last baby in 2009, most of them positive. The antenatal care was better, the facilities were better. Labouring in your own room and not on a labour ward is of course, wonderful. The midwives were fabulous and, despite being both old (I had my last two babies at 43 and 45) and fat, I was supported and not judged the whole way through my pregnancies.

The biggest difference I found as a new mum in the 2007 was the amount of pressure that is placed on new mums. One of the areas where this is most apparent is the issue of feeding and weaning. Feeding our babies seems to have become a stick with which to beat new mums. A stick which, when wielded by inflexible and unsympathetic professionals and volunteers, actually disempowers women and diminishes their confidence and affects that new, and most important bonding relationship, between a mother and her new baby.

Unfortunately this begins with Breast feeding. Now, before many of you get your keyboards out and start telling me about the benefits of Breast feeding – I know them.  I have breast fed 4 out of my 5 children – child number 4 completely refusing to breast feed despite my  experience and persistent efforts! I am wholly committed to promoting breast feeding. I am a trained breast feeding peer supporter and I believe, absolutely, in the benefits of breast feeding for both mother and baby. Articles on the health of people in Scotland do not make happy reading. Heart disease, alcoholism and obesity – cancer and long term health conditions like diabetes, are big problems and so it is important that we try to ensure that babies born in Scotland have the best start, and that means encouraging  breast feeding. What I take issue with is the manner in which Breast feeding is promoted.  The messages seem to be “You must breast feed, you must absolutely breast feed, you must exclusively breast feed, any woman can breast feed it is not true that some cant, you are risking your children’s future health, intellect and achievements if you don’t breast feed and you will be failing to do the best for your child”

If you want to bottle feed your baby, you can feel completely ignored in the antenatal feeding discussions.  At my NHS ante natal classes there was no demonstration of how to make a bottle up, no discussion of the different milks, of what will happen in hospital and of how to sterilise or ensure the cleanliness of the feeding equipment. Now, I – writing this and you – reading this – may very well know how to do all these things but if you are a 17 year old, just out of care, on your own with no experience of babies – how do you know?  You probably don’t even go to antenatal classes, you probably think breast feeding is “yukky” (a commonly used word to describe breast feeding amongst young adults) If you don’t read very well, if English isn’t your first language, if you aren’t very confident then how would you find these things out.  If you are cocky and defensive as many single young mothers are – who would you ask?  The needs of bottle feeding mums are ignored in this frenzy to promote breast feeding to the exclusion of everything else. In 2009 the Medical Research Council said that bottle feeding mums felt “… guilt; worry about the impact on their baby and what healthcare professionals might say; uncertainty about how to proceed; a sense of failure; and anger as a result of feeling under pressure to breastfeed.” (MRC/42/09,14th July) They found evidence to show that mothers were not receiving the advice they need to make decisions about quantity, or frequency of feeds and that this neglect of bottle feeding mums can put the health of the baby at risk.

Mixed feeding is actively discouraged.  In 2009 I was given a locally produced leaflet with the message that “just one feed” is sufficient to undo all the benefits that you have bestowed on your child from breast feeding.  Just one feed can increase the risk of diabetes, under achievement, asthma and eczema. Just one feed, apparently is enough to mean that your wee one will likely never want your breast again.  And this isn’t just confined to bottles – give your new baby a dummy and they are likely to develop nipple confusion.  I have looked at this in some detail and can find no scientific evidence that such a thing exists.  I have gone as far as emailing an old school friend of mine – now a consultant obstetrician and paediatrician in a large teaching hospital and he was unable to give me directions to any research. Many women occasionally swap from one to the other with little effect either on their milk supply or on the baby’s ability to suck. In fact my last baby was bottle fed completely for the first 36 hours and then I put her to the breast and I never gave her a bottle again. Where you have a healthy, full term baby there is no evidence to suggest that a baby will not be able to return to the breast after one or two bottles. Neither is a soother a problem either – and in fact there is research to suggest that a dummy can help to reduce risk of sudden infant death.  The effect of leaflets like “just one feed”  can be to increase the feelings of guilt, fear and failure in new mums.

I have also found that many women who breast feed, also feel these feelings of guilt and failure.  A mother I knew who was a successful breast feeding mum, a confident, professional woman, described still waking up in the night worrying about the fact that she gave her baby formula out of a cup when in hospital. This was despite the fact that the professionals advised this was what both she and her baby needed at the time.  Exhausted after the birth, a hungry and crying baby and a lack of her own milk, and she gave him a  formula feed – he slept, she slept and she was in a much better position to breast feed the following day. And yet this smart and confident woman still felt guilt and pain over “just one feed”

Women who have given up breast feeding are often made to feel like they haven’t tried hard enough. A new mum with a baby who was struggling with feeding mentioned to her health visitor that she was thinking of moving to formula feed to be asked “What??? You are GIVING UP? You know it is best for baby don’t you?  You need to try harder”  I have heard stories about a woman sharing a video of her child  pouring formula milk samples she had been sent in error – down the toilet….  Down the TOILET!!!! A woman who is also a peer supporter, but lives here from another country said in disgust “Only in such a rich country could people treat food with such disdain”.

Another woman I spoke to described her anxiety over timing her baby’s feeds; I suggested that she could give her baby a feed two hours after the last one if she wanted rather than waiting for the routine times she had planned and she asked me “Can I? Would that be alright?” I had to point out to her that he was HER baby and she could organise his feeds whichever way suited her and him. She was so relieved that she almost cried. Another woman was so anxious about her breast fed baby “getting enough” that she fed all the information about his feeds into her computer spending ages trying to figure out how much he was getting.  Time she could have spent just being with her baby and getting to know him. She was under pressure, anxious and desperately trying to understand why she was finding it so hard.

I have heard health professionals say in a horrified voice – “They use ground up tuna fish eye sockets for calcium in formula milk” and seen a whole room of women curl their lip in horror.  This is just mad.  Formula milk may not be breast milk, but it isn’t arsenic in a bottle.  I have heard women suggest that other women who bottle feed their babies are less “mothering” than mothers who breastfeed and seen a room of women sneer and denigrate others who use formula milk as though they – breast feeding mothers – are somehow better or superior.

If these messages were successful in increasing breast feeding across the board, across all different groups of women then it might – just might – have some justification in filling many women with a sense of having failed as a mother before they have actually started . They are however, not successful. Over the last ten years in Scotland the rates of breast feeding have remained static – there have been slight increases of a percentage point here and there, but no significant increase.  Importantly whilst there has been an increase of a whole 6% in ten years, of breast feeding across  the most deprived areas of Scotland  –  in Scotland’s poorest communities there are still  only around 20% of babies exclusively breast fed at 6-8 weeks.  Even when you add in mixed feeding the figure is still only 22.3%.  The government set a target to increase the proportion of new born children exclusively breastfed at 6-8 weeks in Scotland, from 26.2% in 2006/07 to 32.7% in 2010/11 (an increase of 25%). We are failing to achieve this. In 2010/11 the figure was 26.5%.

When we get to weaning the inflexibility of the advice continues. The official advice is that weaning should not take place until the baby is 6 months old.  This advice is lifted straight from the World Health Organisation Guidelines. I want to make it clear that I am not talking about other countries here but Scotland. There are countries where formula milk is not high quality and where hygiene is not of a high standard and this makes using formula milk dangerous. I am not talking about countries with low birth weight babies or without clean places to prepare weaning food.  I’m talking about Scotland.  These guidelines are WORLD guidelines they  offer guidance to countries where infant mortality is high and birth weight low. The average birth weight in Scotland is good at just under 8lbs. Telling mums that breast milk is the best food for children up to 6 months – come what may –  takes no account of your child and their own needs.  I know women whose babies cried and cried and they slogged it out until 6 months – exhausted, wondering where their happy child went, in order not to give give their wee one solid food before six months. Other women had babies who were not the slightest bit interested in food until they were past 6 months. They are all different – they are BABIES not computers.  There was recent research to show that weaning at 4 months can be beneficial and yet the official advice is absolutely NOT to wean your baby before 6 months old.

If you have a health visitor with common sense then you maybe told on the quiet, that starting at four months old is ok. But many mothers report being told absolutely, under no circumstances are they to even think about weaning before 6 months.  When I was first a mum in 1989 and 1990 I was often told by professionals, “You know your baby, what do you think?” I was able to discuss whether my baby was hungry enough for weaning or not… I was advised – not ordered, supported not scared into doing what I was told and my children were all weaned at different ages because they were all ready for weaning at different ages.  I was given credit for being a mother, a good one. In many places in Scotland today that doesn’t seem to happen.

So what are we doing?  What on earth happened to freedom and support? What happened to the nurturing and help, that older women would give to younger women on the birth of their babies?   Surely, as women, we have campaigned to have choices, as feminists in the 21st century, we believe in choice for women and the right to live happy, fulfilled lives. How then can we justify pressurising women over this so that they feel the emotions I have mentioned?  We have women who are finding they lack confidence in mothering, that they have no power to make choices which are right for them and their babies for fear of either being labelled a failure, or of damning their children to a life of ill health and intellectual failure because of “just one feed”. We have a system which does not allow for the needs of individual babies and mums to be taken into account in a positive and empowering way.  We have otherwise well-adjusted women so disempowered by the advice, that they feel that they have no control over the  frequency, type and duration of infant feeding  and we also have socially disadvantaged women, completely unreached by the message that breast is cheap, can be easy and is often fun to do – with the right support. Strikes me  it is the whole approach to promoting breast feeding which is failing – not the mums who use bottles, dummies or wean at 4 months. If we want to make a real difference to breast feeding rates and the health of its population, then we need to empower women to make informed decisions without the use of a big stick – all women –  including those in the poorest areas of our country and if we can do this, then we might just start to change these depressing statistics and improve the health of Scotland in years to come.

Sue Lyons






Yir Ain Pain’s the Sairest

I’ve been in Brussels this week at the European Anti Poverty Network 16th European Meeting of People Experiencing Poverty. An EU sponsored event which brings together the people with experience of poverty and collects their voices  to better inform and develop policy. Because of my work and my life experiences,  I was fortunate to be part of a UK delegation through the Poverty Alliance along with Twimukye Mushaka, Kerrie Friel and Paul Edwards. I will, of course be doing a formal report on my professional experience for my work but I wanted to write a personal account of what I experienced.

Now, many of you will know that this is not a normal event for me. I don’t travel to Europe “on business”. I rarely fly – the last time must have been 2010 so this was a big deal for me. I learnt so much in this last few days, about Europe, about other countries, about poverty and about me.

I learnt that everyone seems to speak English. I learnt that a latte is different everywhere you go. I learnt that Schiphol airport is bigger than Inverness – not Inverness Airport – I already knew that – but Inverness itself. It’s MASSIVE. I learnt that I’m a proper teuchter – wide eyed and overwhelmed by the people, the noise, the bustle of big places in a way that my 18 year old self, worldly wise and working in Manchester would have laughed at.

I learnt that drivers in Brussels honk their horns all the time. It’s so noisy! I learnt that listening and tweeting at the same time makes my head hurt and I learnt that I should have brought more than one plug adapter. I also learnt that small boots are better than big boots when flying and that being a fat, menopausal Woman fae The Highlands means that everywhere I go I am hotter than almost everyone else even when everyone else seems to be wearing woolly hats and scarves but that there is a universal language of menopausal women which lets you know you are not alone.

More that this though was the experience of the event itself. I learnt that to be introduced at a European event as the UK delegation raises a wry eyebrow but to point out that you are from Scotland raises a smile and an occasional cheer. I learnt that the minimum wage in countries across Europe ranges from 60 euros a month to around 1500 euros a month. I learnt that the markets for subsistence farming produce is becoming smaller and causing great hardship and poverty. I learnt that there are lots of young British people working in Brussels and that many of the ones I spoke to had a connection with Scotland. I learnt that many of the delegates had been to university in Scotland. I learnt that I regret not being more ambitious as a young woman. I learnt that I truly feel European – especially when meeting my son who is currently living in Antwerp. I learnt that George from Romania has an English friend called Sue who lives in Crawley – he face timed her and introduced us!

I learnt that Scotland’s voice is of interest to many other Europeans. I learnt that people in Europe think the British have no sense of humour but that the Scottish “style” was appreciated. I was a bit confused by that as my experience of everyday Scottish style is that it’s black jeans and black t shirts for men and not much different for women ( not counting the kilt of course). Closer questioning revealed that what was being talked about was “the craic” and we spent a funny few minutes teaching our new friends about “the craic” and the “banter” and sent them off to share those new words with others – cultural exchange indeed! I learnt that not only does Scotland look to Europe and Scandinavia for innovation and inspiration, but that many countries feel that Scotland has a lot to offer too. The Danish delegation specifically said that Scandinavia looks to learn from Scotland – maybe they were just being nice but I’d like to think not. I learnt that there is a feeling of relief that Britain is on its way out of Europe because those people involved in developing social policy at a European level feel they will get more progressive work done without Britain’s obstructive behaviour. I felt a bit ashamed of that. I learnt that the British Government had promoted Universal Credit as an exemplar to other countries in Europe and I spoke about the stories that I had heard at Drew Hendry’s Universal Credit Summit in Inverness as often as I could to delegates, the EAPN, representatives of other Governments and the EU itself. I spoke about the work which is ongoing to design a Rights based Social Security System in Scotland with dignity and respect at its heart. 

I learnt that there is so much more that connects us than divides us; that the power of the collective voice is important as a way to bring about social change and that the EU must support the development of that collective voice if they want to see real transformation. I also learnt that whilst there are many different experiences of poverty in different countries, the common denominator in every case, is the exploitation of the working class by the wealthy. For those of you who might find class politics stick in your throats a bit I would look you sternly in the eye and tell you straight – in a week when we saw the Panama Papers released and the scale of the avoidance of tax by those at the very top of the pile it is hard to see any other explanation for the continuation of poverty in the 21st century. Poverty is a political choice.

Finally I learnt that there are many people who would give their eye teeth for some of the things we take for granted. Many people who have nothing, but in knowing that I also know that the fact that others are suffering too doesn’t make the suffering of those people in our own countries any less appalling. If you are destitute in Britain, destitute in Spain, destitute in Estonia, France, Sweden, Ireland; if you are working and not earning enough to pay your bills and facing eviction in Scotland, in Belgium, in Denmark, Lithuania, Romania it is no comfort to you that someone, somewhere else is “worse off”. My delegation colleague Kerrie Friel who spoke passionately about the experiences of lone parents and Carers at the opening session said her mum used to say “Yir ain pain’s the sairest”. And she was right. All over Europe people are feeling their “ain pain” – the pain and hopelessness of poverty and we must continue to demand that the EU and individual Governments work together to tackle this across Europe.

Oh, and rich people ….. PAY YOUR TAXES!

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