Mothers across Australia know that breast is best, but for many women breastfeeding can be a struggle.

At Mercy Health’s two hospitals in greater Melbourne, Mercy Hospital for Women (MHW) and Werribee Mercy Hospital (WMH), new mothers are given every support through what can be a very stressful experience.

They are encouraged to ask for help, speak with International Certified Lactation Consultants and if eligible access the  Mercy Health’s Breastmilk Bank through their doctor.

To mark World Breastfeeding Week, CHA spoke with Werribee Mercy Hospital clinical midwife lactation consultant Helen Adams who says breastfeeding is like learning to dance – it’s a learned skill and for a new mum it may take time to become confident.

“It’s biologically normal for mothers and, for that matter, all mammals to feed their young their own specific milk,” said Helen.

“The closeness between baby and the mother that comes from breastfeeding is also wonderful for relationship building. I’m sure virtually all mothers would concur with that view

“Also, it’s a well-established fact that breast milk contains nutrients and provides a protection against medical conditions for both the mother and baby,” Helen says.

At Mercy Health, it’s recommended that mothers who are having difficulties seek advice from people who are experienced and knowledgeable about breastfeeding.

“We also make it clear that advice should be based on evidence-based practice and not personal experience.

“Another issue we confront is the volume of conflicting or inaccurate information that now exists.

“There are so many sources available today, whether it is information from friends, family, books or social media but overload can also cause confusion.

Helen says mothers should never feel that they have failed or let their baby down if the breastfeeding journey is not successful.

“It is important to reassure mothers that love and nurturing is not dependent on how a baby is fed - it doesn't just come from breastfeeding. It certainly does not mean you are not a good mother because you don’t have a successful experience with breastfeeding.

“A mum is entitled to feel some regret that the breastfeeding journey might not have followed the desired path, but they should reassure themselves that any breastmilk they have given their baby is wonderful.

“It is also important for mothers to continue to give their new babies skin to skin contact and have some special baby time.”

If a baby is premature or sick, it may affect the breastfeeding process and in 2011, it was one of the reasons for the establishment of the Mercy Health Breastmilk Bank.

Since it was set up ten years ago it has supplied milk to more than 1000 babies.

It collects, processes and stores human milk that’s donated by healthy breastfeeding mothers producing milk in excess of their baby’s needs and distributes pasteurised donor milk to sick and/or premature infants in Melbourne’s major Neonatal Intensive Care Units.

Until recently, only mothers who gave birth at Mercy for Women, Heidelberg were able to donate their extra milk to the Breastmilk Bank at Mercy Hospital for Women in Heidelberg.

But it also now has satellite sites at Monash Children’s Hospital, Clayton, The Royal Women's Hospital, Parkville and The Royal Children's Hospital so more babies can now access the free milk while in hospital, and increase the pool of donors.

Premature and low birth weight or critically sick babies in these hospitals are the priority recipients, as are babies born to mothers who were unwell or had passed away.

One of the past donor, Hayley Jean decided to take part in Mercy Health Breastmilk Bank after dealing with excess breastmilk production following the birth of her son Bodhi. Over three months she donated an astonishing 17 litres of liquid gold that have helped sick and premature babies.

The WHO and UNICEF are calling on governments to protect and promote women’s access to skilled breastfeeding counselling as part of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week. At Mercy that message is being heard loud and clear - and mothers are being provided with every support to ensure their babies really do get the best possible start in life.

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