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Clare Byam-Cook

What to Expect When You're Breastfeeding and What If You Can't? by Clare Byam-Cook

In-depth advice and information from expert trained midwife and breastfeeding counsellor.

Published by Vermillion Rev Ed, 2006

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Breast Feeding Without Tears With Clare Byam-Cook (DVD)

Expert advice for successful breast feeding.

Green Umbrella Productions, 2004

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I just can’t praise her enough - Kate Winslet

This book should be handed out with the first contraction. Clare is a true "baby whisperer" who will save you and your baby hours of torment. Her kind, common-sense and amazingly informed advice was as essential to me as breastpads and chocolate. Buy this book! Kate Beckinsale

Clare Byam-Cook is a great solution — she takes away the old wives’ tales, the nonsense and the guilt, and makes the whole process work as it is meant to. Emma Freud

Whenever I refer patients to Clare I am confident that, if the problem can be solved, she will solve it. Her expertise and calm, confident manner has provided help and reassurance to countless mothers over the years. Dr Tim Evans (Royal Physician)

The ultimate baby bible by a true authority on this most fundamental yet elusive subjects. Clare’s wisdom and experience will hold the hand of many a vulnerable new mother. It is greatly welcomed. Patricia Hodge

Clare came to my rescue when we were in a complete mess. She turned my feeding nightmare into a much more peaceful experience. Tiggy Legge Bourke

Without Clare I would have fallen at the first hurdle Annabel Hesteltine

Practical, unemotional and just what women at the end of their tethers need. Cassandra Jardine, author of How to be a Better Parent

Despite being a professional working with children I soon realised that at a personal level common sense can go out of the window. As an uncle and more recently a father I have very gratefully accepted Clare’s straight talking no-nonsense approach. Not only do I now have a niece and son who eat and consequently sleep better but Clare’s invaluable help has resulted in four happier parents as well. Atul J Sabharwal, Consultant Paediatric Surgeon

Praise  for Clare Byam-Cook from Mothers of Contented Babies

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Interview with Clare Byam-Cook


Clare Byam-Cook is a qualified nurse and midwife, but retired from practicing as a midwife in 1985. In 1989 she joined Christine Hill, teaching at her private ante-natal classes in London, and for the last eighteen years she has specialised in helping mothers resolve feeding problems. Clare is firmly committed to helping mothers breastfeed, but she does not have rose-coloured glasses! Although breastfeeding is ‘natural’, she believes that it is still a skill that has to be learned and feels that many mothers fail to establish breastfeeding simply because they receive inappropriate or inaccurate advice. Over the years she has built up a huge following, with clients coming either by word-of-mouth or by doctor or hospital referral.

Why did you decide to give up midwifery and become a breast-feeding counsellor?

The main reason that I gave up midwifery was that new rules and regulations meant that I was spending more time on paperwork and less time on practical nursing care. In 1989 I joined Christine Hill, teaching at her private ante-natal classes, and gradually I developed my knowledge and experience on breast-feeding. Initially I used to give advice over the telephone, but I soon realised that this was of little help to the mothers who were calling me and I started offering to visit them at home. This proved to be very popular and word spread that I was able to solve problems that others could not.

Why did you decide to write a book?

Pressure from my clients! Although my technique for latching a baby on to the breast is totally different to that currently used by most midwives and lactation consultants, my technique works. Every time I succeeded in latching a baby on to the breast when others had failed, or showed a mother with sore nipples how to latch her baby on in a way that no longer hurt, my clients would say that I should write a book. So I did! When I approached Random House with a manuscript they immediately agreed to publish it. The big attraction to them was that my book was the first to admit that breast-feeding can be difficult. It also dealt with all the possible problems in great detail, rather than implying that things such as sore nipples are a minor inconvenience that will pass with time.

Why do you think the UK has the one of the worst breast-feeding statistics in the world?

I'm afraid that I really do believe that it's because, here in the UK, we give breast-feeding women poor advice. I am, for example, always interested and delighted to meet New Zealand midwives, because their advice and techniques are almost identical to mine. They too find it extraordinary that mothers are told to line up their baby 'nose to nipple' rather than ‘mouth to nipple’ and can't understand why mothers aren't shown how to shape their breast to make latching easier. Recent figures show that almost 50% of women give up breast-feeding because they find it too difficult. Clearly these mothers are being ill-advised, because if they were given help and advice that actually worked, not all of them would be giving up. I do not think that our poor breast-feeding rates are due to mothers being unaware of the benefits of breastfeeding.

What do you think is the main reason that so many women give up breast-feeding in the early weeks?

I think the majority of women give up simply because they find it too difficult and are ill-prepared to deal with the problems that they encounter. Many of the women I visit have attended ante-natal classes where the main emphasis was on the joys and benefits of breast-feeding. They were given little if any information about possible difficulties in latching, sore nipples or mastitis and, as a result, they find it a terrible shock when things go wrong. In addition, most of them have no 'emergency' kit, such as a breast pump, so they have no tools to help them when a problem arises. Most of these women had assumed that breastfeeding would be easy because it is 'natural' and were unaware that it is a skill that has to be learned. Breasts come in all shapes and sizes and many babies need active help with latching - it's a total myth that all babies instinctively know what to do.

What do you think the National Health Service could do to improve breast-feeding figures?

There should be better training for midwives and other health professionals. Many of my clients are referred to me by hospitals, community midwives or NCT teachers who know that I use different techniques, and yet they still tell the mothers that I will succeed where they have failed. Unfortunately, these midwives are usually bound by hospital rules and regulations, which prevent them from using their own initiative and do not allow them to suggest aids such as nipple shields. I freely admit that my knowledge of breast-feeding was very limited during my time working as a midwife, mainly because we rarely followed up on patients after they were discharged from hospital. As a result, we didn't hear whether sore nipples recovered or whether babies did eventually latch on. Feedback is an essential part of the learning process.

What are the most common problems that mothers contact you about?

Sore nipples, difficulty with latching on, engorged breasts, mastitis and poor milk supply are the problems I see on a daily basis. Most of these issues are easily resolved, but I do find that I can't always help a mother who has too little milk - I firmly believe that some women are just not able to produce enough milk for their baby, regardless of whose advice they follow or how much effort they put into it

What do you say to mothers who choose not to breast-feed?

I do feel it’s a great pity if mothers who are not even prepared to give breast-feeding a go. Having a baby is a huge responsibility and I think every mother owes it to her baby to give him the best start in life with breast-feeding. But if a mother tries to breast-feed and then gives up because she finds it too painful or difficult, she should not feel guilty or a failure.

And finally Clare, what do you say to those who criticise you for having no formal qualifications in breast-feeding?

Well, first of all I would point out that I was a fully qualified midwife and I have been working as a breastfeeding specialist for nearly 20 years. I would also add that I have never advertised, so all my clients have to come to me by word-of-mouth referral from their friends, GPs or midwives. As these mothers have already been through the system without finding a solution to their problem, it would appear that I must have been doing something right if I can sort them out when others have failed. I think it is a great shame that I am the subject of criticism for being in private practise and for not agreeing with some of the current advice given to mothers by other organisations. Surely I should be judged on my results rather than whether I meekly conform to what everyone else is saying and doing? My critics should take comfort in this: word-of-mouth referral only happens when you offer a good service. Bad news travels faster than good news!



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