Released on: 05 October 2016

Joanne Diraham-Ruzza has been a breastfeeding counsellor for six years. One of her many tasks is to run breastfeeding sessions on NCT antenatal courses. Here Jo writes about what goes on in her classes and how she tries to give parents the right information so they can make the best feeding choices for themselves.

There’s often a lot of anxiety surrounding the breastfeeding sessions, usually from the dads in the group, funnily enough. So I try to meet the class before our get-together to let them know there’s nothing to worry about.

We talk about all sorts of feeding in the actual session: breastfeeding, formula feeding and everything in the middle. Each session follows more or less the same content but the flow of the class will be different due to the group’s questions and responses. You really have to go along with the parents and adapt the class to meet their needs.

Much of the information in the session applies to babies however they’re fed. We talk about how much, how often, how long, positions, how to recognise a hungry baby or when they’ve had enough. We talk about common challenges and where to find support.

As with anything relating to parenting, there’s no one size fits all approach. Some mothers express breastmilk and also give formula, some mums mix breastfeeding with formula feeding, some exclusively breastfeed and others exclusively formula feed. I try to help parents realise that there aren’t only two choices. 

I aim to make my classes as relaxed as possible. With so much pressure on women to breastfeed, a key part of the class is to let them know that it is not always an easy thing to do or keep on doing. It is essential that mothers don’t feel that they have failed if they can’t or decide not to breastfeed.

It’s really important that there’s help for those women who want to breastfeed but find it difficult. Early support can make all the difference and help women who choose to breastfeed avoid the disappointment of not being able to feed their baby the way they want to. 

It can be difficult at times to walk the fine line between describing breastfeeding as challenging and not putting them off. And we don’t want to bombard people with too much information which can further increase anxiety. We want them to feel prepared and supported, whatever their circumstances or decisions.

With so many myths surrounding breastfeeding, I try to dispel as many as I can and encourage women to discuss their worries and concerns. Some women think that their boobs aren’t big enough, which is a common misconception as size doesn’t reflect milk production. 

However parents feed their babies, life as a new mother or father can be a challenge. Whether breast, formula or mixed fed, there aren’t any magic bullets to make life easier but support can really make a difference and enable women to feel confident in their feeding decisions. 

Like so many aspects of parenting, things don’t always go according to plan, of course. I send out an e-mail after the class with further information and point out other areas of support in the community to try to make people more confident about coping. 

There are health visitors, helplines and loads of information and support online and through social media. The NCT website and helpline are good places to start for information about breast or bottle-feeding.

I love being part of people’s journeys as parents and keeping in touch with them in the weeks and months after the class. I’m always learning from their experiences and that knowledge will help me as I support future mums.

NCT has more information on breastfeedingformula feeding and mixed feeding.

NCT’s Helpline (0300 330 0700) offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood including help with feeding. It is open every day from 8am to midnight, including bank holidays.

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