Good mothers breastfeed, bad mothers bottle feed, right? Wrong.
But it’s the message new mums continue to hear loud and clear when they have their first child. And it’s contributed to the suicide of Joanne Bingley.
When the ‘breast is best’ message becomes so pressure-filled it leads a new mum to take her own life, something has gone terribly awry.
Joanne and Chris Bingley wanted to become parents from the moment they tied the knot in the in September 2005. They started trying straight away and Joanne fell pregnant in 2006 however suffered a miscarriage. It was a terrible time for the couple. They were shocked and heartbroken. Joanne in particular took it hard.
“It was absolutely horrendous,” Chris said. “Jo was crying all the time.”
Emily was born on February 18, 2010, weighing 9lb 3oz. At first, all seemed well.
"There’s a ten per cent chance that any woman will get post-natal depression," Chris told the Daily Mail. "For someone who has suffered before — like Joe following the miscarriages — there’s a 50?pc chance of having it again, so that alone should have set off alarm bells for those monitoring her pregnancy."
Nobody prepares you for how difficult breastfeeding can be. Even if you are warned, you can never quite comprehend how difficult and painful it can be until you try and do it. That's what Joanne discovered when she tried to breastfeed her new baby Emily. But it's not like the 39-year-old was suffering in silence. Joanne knew she wasn't coping. She didn't try to hid the fact she was struggling.
This brave mum reached out and asked for help, in fact she begged for help. In the weeks leading up to her death she had asked her GP for help, health visitors and the mental health crisis team referred to her case. Twice in those ten weeks she'd been admitted to hospital with breastfeeding problems and hadn't wanted to return home.
Not once was she advised to stop breastfeeding and switch to bottle feeding.
Her final plea was to a health care worker. She said, "Please take me with you" and was ignored. Three days later she left her husband with their newborn baby, walked to the railway line her her home and lay down on the tracks until a train ran over her.
Her little girl was just 10 weeks old. Chris feels had it not been for a complete lack of support by her medical professionals, she may still be here today. He's now given up everything - his job and every cent he ever earned - searching for answers. He has devoted his life to campaigning for women to have access to specialist mental health services whenever they need them.
"It’s a statutory regulation for health visitors to assess for mental health problems — but Joe’s health visitor never asked the relevant questions," Chris says. "I know, because I’ve seen the questionnaire and none of the mental health questions have been ticked. Had they bothered to ask, they may have discovered that Joe’s mother, grandmother and aunt had all suffered from post-natal depression. Joe was struggling with breastfeeding, and she and Emily went back into hospital to get help. She stayed two nights and came out much happier."
"For a couple of weeks things seemed fine, but then Emily started screaming for hours on end at night. Joe wasn’t producing enough milk and Emily was hungry and losing weight. Joe was beside herself and returned to hospital on March 10. Her medical records say she was stressed and tearful. They suspected she was suffering from post-natal depression, but she was never referred for any kind of mental health help, only help with breastfeeding."
"The hospital seemed only to focus on the breastfeeding issue, not the mental health one. That’s the breastfeeding lobby for you."
Hospital staff even tried connecting Joanne up to a breast pump for an entire day, leaving her chest battered and bruised. "She looked as if she'd been in a fight and was in a desperate state."
"I questioned why no one had suggested that she bottle-feed the baby. The midwife said that unless Joe or I specifically asked for advice on bottle-feeding, then they weren’t allowed to raise the subject. I asked if we could do bottle-feeding as well as breastfeeding — and that night, for the first time in ten days, Joe fed her baby in her arms with a bottle, and Emily fell asleep."
"We cried with relief. I don’t blame the midwives — they were fantastic. It’s the hospital and their policies that I blame, putting her physical health ahead of her mental health."
Joanne continued to struggle when she returned home and never recovered. The struggle to breastfeed on top of post-natal depression had been her undoing.
When I see a mum struggling to breastfeed I tell them it doesn't matter how their baby is fed, as long as they are fed. Breastfeed, bottle feed, do a combination of both. Breastfeeding shouldn't become torture. It shouldn't affect your mental health.
Emily is now three and Chris is still searching for answers. "She’s always known that Mummy is in Heaven and loves her very much. I had to tell her that Mummy had been very ill indeed and that some people can’t be fixed."
Did you have any difficulties breastfeeding?
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Sadly, battles over breastfeeding are nothing new, as these jaw-dropping images from across the ages show