No one taught me how to properly breastfeed my twins – they ended up in A&E
At five days old, both of my twin babies were admitted into a paediatric ward because they were really sick.
Particularly the smaller of the two boys, Conor – he was so dehydrated that his kidneys weren’t functioning properly.
I’d struggled to feed them, and they were barely conscious when we arrived at A&E. It was horrible to be a new parent and to see your children at the hospital so poorly.
You feel incredible guilt that you’re doing everything wrong – that you’re not cut out for parenthood.
What followed was years of feeling anxious and overwhelmed as a parent, which is why I’m calling for the Government to provide every child under five with a baby and toddler guarantee, which would set out and ensure the basic services – like expert advice and extra support – that every young child in the UK is entitled to.
I had my beautiful twin boys in February 2020, at the start of the pandemic, aged 34. They were my first children, and I felt completely unprepared.
In the run-up to having them, I felt quite supported by my husband, family and friends but everything went wrong for me on postnatal wards. Staff were completely overrun.
Everybody that I saw in the hospital was always really nice, but I got the distinct feeling that they were rushed off their feet. That there were never enough of them.
Like most new mums, I had no idea what I was doing and I felt like nobody told me what I was supposed to do. No amount of reading can prepare you for going from no children, to two children.
I found that support in the hospital was only to check on the health of my babies, and not mine.
I didn’t feel assisted with breastfeeding because I wasn’t checked over to make sure that my babies were feeding properly. As a result, they weren’t.
When I was first sent home – three days after they were born – I was terrified and didn’t sleep. I just stared at them wondering what on earth to do and how and when to feed them.
I really feel like if there was a healthcare professional available to talk me through how to feed both of my babies at once, it could have prevented what happened to my boys.
Since then, I’ve learned that many parents like me across the UK are struggling and not getting the postpartum help they need and that it could have a huge impact on their children’s health and futures.
When my boys were ill, I felt so low, and my depression was completely dismissed by healthcare professionals
A UNICEF UK survey of parents across the country with children aged zero to four years found that 70% of parents feel like it’s getting harder to be a parent in Britain because of the rising cost-of-living, access to affordable childcare, less time to spend with their children and reduced local services. Troublingly, 66% said they were worried about their child’s future life chances.
For me, I feel like having no assistance after giving birth was the catalyst for a lengthy battle with postnatal and clinical depression, as well as constant feelings of inadequacy.
Turns out I’m not alone, either.
The charity’s survey also found that 61% of parents have struggled with their mental health since becoming a parent.
When my boys were ill, I felt so low, and my depression was completely dismissed by healthcare professionals. The only thing that anybody really seemed to care about were the babies who, after a couple of weeks with help from the doctors, came on leaps and bounds.
I felt that I was just constantly falling by the wayside. And in March 2020, when the boys were a month old, we went into lockdown. I couldn’t speak to a GP, and it took a long time for my mental health to recover.
If I’m perfectly honest, I don’t think it fully has.
I still suffer a lot with anxiety, and I think it stems from that 18-month period where things were incredibly bad.
If there had been someone who could have spent 20 minutes with me at the beginning – just 20 minutes – long enough to help me feed both boys at once, I feel like it would have changed the whole course of motherhood for me.
I had such an awful time of it that I will resolutely never have another child. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind I will never put myself through the experience of postnatal and postpartum ever again.
It has shaped the way I view myself as a mother, and it’s taken me a long time to even accept the fact that maybe I am OK at it. But for the first 18 months of my children’s lives, I definitely didn’t think that.
Thankfully, now, they’re doing really well. They’re healthy, but things could have been so different.
Stories like mine are why UNICEF UK is calling on the UK Government to introduce a National Baby and Toddler Guarantee. That means face-to-face appointments and speaking to health professionals that parents and carers can trust, as well as affordable nurseries and mental health support.
This would mean families would know what help they should receive and can access the right services for their baby’s health, well-being and early education – right from the start.
For me, it would have changed everything.
Emma is supporting UNICEF’s Early Moments Matter campaign. For more information and to sign the petition, visit their website here.
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