I'm quite angry: hospital accused of shaming breastfeeding mums

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

A UK hospital has been criticised by new parents for recommending they put down their phones and look at their babies.

The hospital has put up signs in the special care unit reading:  "Mummy and Daddy please look at me when I am feeding, I am much more interesting than your phone."

Father Dr Ash Cottrell, who was in the Yeoville District Hospital Special Care Unit with his new baby, shared an image of poster on Twitter writing:  "This poster makes me sad".

The post drew a passionate response with some labelling the sign as mum shaming and others saying a phone can be a "lifeline to the outside world" during such a difficult time for new parents.  

"Babies are much more interesting than our phones but we also need advice or support or connect with other people when feeling very lonely in hospital. Babies are super cute but not great conversationalists and the middle of the night can feel very overwhelming," one mum wrote. 

"This poster is awful and needs to be removed. This shames new mothers, and leaves them vulnerable to developing PND. I'm quite angry that the department felt like this was an appropriate thing to put on the wall," said another.

But while the poster was delivered a big thumbs down on social media, baby care experts agree the message is an important one for new parents to hear - although it could be delivered in a more sensitive way. 

Lactation consultant, Pinky McKay, said parents should consider the medical staff are giving valuable advice rather than feeling shamed.

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"Phone addiction is a 'thing'. While a phone can be an important part of supporting you through isolation and anxiety, it will be right there waiting for you when you have fed your baby," she said.

Pinky stressed the importance of eye contact with a baby to elicit the release of oxytocin, which is the hormone responsible for milk flow and bonding and helping mothers connect and learn their baby's non-verbal cues.

"Even if your baby is too small to gaze back at you just yet (if premmie), by gazing at your baby, holding baby skin to skin and stroking his body, you are establishing important connections that will help you get to know his subtle body language and little noise," she explained.

Professor for the Tresillian chair in child and family health at the faculty of health University of Technology Sydney, Cathrine Fowler said she believes it is good advice.

"We see lots of babies coming to Tresillian being affected by sleep, settling and feeding issues and once parents stop and focus on the child it does become more settled and feeding often improves."

Professor Fowler said feeding is not just about nutrition but is a great opportunity to help develop the relationship between parent and baby.

"Considering that in the early years brain development is occurring at a rapid rate, eye contact and interaction with the baby in the early years is essential," she said.

"Touching baby, responding continuously to the baby. To just see this as a great opportunity to help the child's development."

However, Professor Fowler said it was not about bashing mothers because we all use social media and it can be quite engaging, but parents need to realise the baby has a lot of needs.

Professor of Midwifery at Western Sydney University, Virginia Schmied said she'd like to see the signs done in a supportive way and for the facilities to enable parents to feel connected and that they have a role.

"It is a real dilemma. How do we supportively speak with parents so they understand the beauty and benefits of eye contact and the admiration of looking at the baby with their other needs they have of connecting with family and friends and perhaps looking up information?" Professor Schmied said.

"Our phones are our world now."

Dr Rhian Cramer, spent 10 weeks in NICU with her baby and knows only too well the isolation new mums can feel.

As a midwife and trained lactation consultant she agreed with the need for parents to engage with their babies, especially while feeding.

"I'd love to ban mobile phones in the birth environment as well as to get couples to focus on themselves as well as the birth experience in the moment, but we don't, as it's not our decision."

However, while in NICU she found her phone vital as a means to distance herself from the stressful environment of the nursery. Dr Cramer said it was not up to staff to dictate, but if they were concerned a parent was distracted by their phone at every feed, gentle encouragement and individual education was a better way; explaining to parents why engaging and interacting with their babies was so important.