As most mothers of this generation were raised on formula themselves, few of them see breastfeeding as an option. Lam says many mothers and grandmothers think that breastfeeding would starve the baby and disturb the mother’s rest. This means that mothers are sometimes resistant to breastfeeding, even when nurses want to help. As it is, Lam thinks nurses get insufficient training on breastfeeding. Today’s nursing undergraduates receive two hours of training over a four-year curriculum, unchanged from when Lam was at nursing school in the 1980s.
Mrs Lee, a nurse in Tuen Mun Hospital, and a mother of two, agrees most doctors and nurses in hospitals lack knowledge about breastfeeding.
“I can clearly tell you, as a nurse, we are not trained on this [breastfeeding],” Lee says. From her observation, many doctors and nurses not only fail to answer mothers’ questions on breastfeeding, some even give them incorrect information.
According to the UN World Breastfeeding Week Annual Survey Summary 2012, only 17 per cent of obstetrics and gynecology doctors, 28 per cent of paediatric doctors and 38 per cent of paediatric nurses had undergone the recommended 20 hours of breastfeeding training within six months of being employed.
Apart from training, the attitude of healthcare professionals is also very important. Lee recalls that when she fell sick while she was breastfeeding, her doctor asked her to stop breastfeeding in order to take an antibiotic when another baby-safe antibiotic was available. This was despite the fact that it is hard for a mother to resume breastfeeding once she stops. “They never think it is a problem to ask mothers to stop breastfeeding,” Lee says.
From her personal experience, Lee thinks peer support is vital in sustaining breastfeeding. Lee says every mother experiences her own difficulties, for example, blocked mammary glands and infected mammary ducts; baby’s failure to latch on; unsupportive families or workplaces.
“We share our experience and give each other advice,” smiles Lee. “You also know that you are not the only one who is suffering, which makes you feel better and helps you to carry on.”