NCT And Breastfeedingby Gemma Campbell
This weekend the NCT President resigned citing many reasons, but one which has sparked real debate amongst many, to do with breastfeeding and what she feels was the grassroots reason for the NCT. Now, when I was pregnant with my first, I joined this revered charity in the hopes of being supported and guided by their antenatal classes and postnatal groups. What I discovered was not so much as support but almost indoctrination. I thought that by becoming a volunteer in our local group and setting up their Bumps and Babies Groups I could better steer some of the die-hard volunteers into being more open and welcoming. Their Breastfeeding Supporters were second to none (and highly trained) and were also at the end of their phone when things were tough for the ladies. But were you unable to breastfeed (ie you took formula to a baby group), you were made to feel at best uncomfortable in groups and at worst a lazy mum.
With my first, I had issues relating to my nipples and eczema. After 4 days of brilliant NHS breastfeeding support, we finally decided formula was the only way baby was going to get the required nutrients she needed. Those nurses and midwives had tried everything from different positioning to literally manipulating my nipples and extracting the colostrum with a syringe. We all discussed the options going forward and it was even stated that if over the next few days I changed my mind I could, and they would send out specialist midwives to continue to support us on our breastfeeding journey. The one thing that was made clear was that formula was simply another viable feeding option. Not the poison that some of the NCT volunteers would have had you believe.
Joining the NCT made me realise that they had a particular issue with Nestle and the shocking manipulation the company exerted in their promotion of formula. It was this background that helped me better understand why some of the volunteers were so #breastisbest. The problem was that some of the volunteers didn’t necessarily understand the background and had simply adopted this blinkered view regarding breastfeeding promotion. The almost propaganda they churned out regarding it was ‘natural’ and ‘the only way’ to feed was incredibly damaging to some mothers who were, in those early few months, incredibly vulnerable. It was only a friend of mine who was pregnant who had had a double mastectomy that really brought home the unrealistic narrative they were promoting. Not long after my first was born the NCT really began pushing the ‘first 1000 days’ campaign’. Suddenly they were much more about supporting families and babies in those important two years. And #fedisbest was a much more supportive platform for them to better reach their target mums.
Over the years I’ve stepped down from my volunteer role but have still kept a watchful eye on the news coming out of the NCT. There have been rumblings about the decisions regarding some of the companies they now allow to their baby shows and complaints about profit before support, however, I was impressed when they began their latest campaign regarding mental health of new parents and offering support to new dads as well as their traditional role as being for the mums. Seana Talbot, however, wrote that she felt that “the charity [had moved] away from our core mission of birth and breastfeeding, and towards more generic ‘parent support’ with an emphasis on postnatal mental health.” Stating the NCT “is no longer the ‘go-to’ charity for issues relating to breastfeeding and maternity services.”
I, for one, don’t feel this is a bad thing. Everybody knows the name of the NCT but many in the past have been put off by their dogged approach regarding breastfeeding and antenatal classes that almost shun any mention of alternative birth options such as C-sections. Embracing the modern view that there is more than just a mum when bringing up a baby, surely is a good thing and should increase revenue. Keeping their name out there and still being the go-to group isn’t too hard unless of course, the papers pick up a story about bullying and a negative portrayal to do with profits and revenue. The supporters and volunteers of the NCT are a fabulous bunch and will always offer help and advice. What we need are more volunteers to promote all of the positive values the NCT stands for.