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Elise was unable to breastfeed her twins, but a nurse wouldn't help her access formula.

Elise Harding was tired and disappointed.

The new mum of twins had tried for three months to breastfeed her newborn twins but it just wasn’t working.

“I found breastfeeding really, really hard so I attended breastfeeding education sessions and a breastfeeding clinic for the first two months when my children were born,” Elise told Mamamia.

“But my children had poor sucks and I was expressing and breastfeeding and bottle feeding and topping up with formula and getting basically an hours sleep overnight.”

Elise was exhausted. She felt like she was spending more time with her breast pump than her babies – breastfeeding just wasn’t a feasible option anymore.

She chose to formula feed her twins, something she says was not an easy decision.

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Mothers of multiples – twins, triplets, etc. – that are formula fed can receive discounts on bulk Karicare and Aptamil baby formula orders with a signed letter from their doctor or a registered maternal health nurse.

Elise asked her community nurse for the letter, which was required to be on NSW Health letterhead, but was denied.

“[The nurse] called me back and she said that the NSW Health position was that they endorse breastfeeding, which I was really upset by because I really, really wanted to breastfeed and I tried my darnedest to breastfeed.”

She submitted a complaint in December and the nursing unit manager apologised for the nurses choice of words, but reiterated that writing a letter to enable Elise easier access to formula would contravene policy.

“I found that so horrible,” Elise said. “Not all women can breastfeed and health professionals should be educated to know that perhaps it’s not possible and you shouldn’t discriminate against women who don’t.”

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Elise said the manager had told her she had received other complaints for the same issue and said she would contact the NSW Ministry of Health for formal advice, but two months after her complaint Elise was still waiting to hear back.

Thankfully, she was able to get the letter required from her paediatrician, who issued it without question, but she was still confused as to why the nurse believed providing the letter would contravene ministry policy and legislation.

When contacted by Mamamia, a spokesperson for NSW Health confirmed there were no legislative or policy concerns to provide a letter to a mother (at her request) that confirms she has multiple babies and that she is formula feeding her babies.

For Elise, making sure healthcare professionals are educated about other options for mothers who cannot breastfeed is important and she wanted to ensure support was available for women.

New mums – especially for those with multiples – were already dealing with a lot and for her, this wasted time and added unnecessary stress.

“I’m just hoping that there’s some education out there to help women more, to understand that breastfeeding is not always best and that perhaps they should care a little bit more about the mother who’s trying to care for their children,” Elise explained. “That’s all I want.”

The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for babies up to six months. Australian statistics show that only 15% of babies are exclusively breastfed to five months, according to the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

A NSW Health spokesperson said the ministry “supports and encourages breastfeeding as the optimal way for a woman to feed her infact”.

“The policy also recognises that all women and their families have the right to clear, impartial and evidence based information to enable them to make an informed choice as to how they feed and care for their infants.”

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