Using your BRAIN

Life doesn't always follow the 'ideal' or your planned path. Sometimes we are faced with decisions and as a new parent these can be even more difficult to navigate as we are already overwhelmed.

In these situations the BRAIN acronym can help us to process our thoughts and information and ensure that we can give informed consent to any suggested plan.

Let me take you through an example: your medical team have suggested to you that your breastfed baby needs a supplement of formula by bottle after every feed.

Benefits - Ask 'what are the benefits of giving my baby the extra milk?'. What are we trying to achieve or avoid? I would include in this exploring the reasons WHY they feel your baby needs extra milk, do you know what signs they are using and are they backed up by evidence? Needing extra milk is not a physiologically 'normal' situation (though it is fairly common in this country) so is the reason behind this being explored thoroughly and corrected? Is there a clear exit strategy from this plan once the benefit has been achieved?

Risks - Discuss the risks of the plan (there are nearly always risks in difficult situations) and how they propose to minimise those risks. Which leads on to...

Alternatives - There is always more than one possible plan. Sometimes acknowledging the alternatives (even if there is clearly one course of action which makes most sense) can help focus you. Sometimes thinking through alternatives allows you to reduce risks. In this example alternatives might be expressing or accessing donor milk, considering cup feeding or and at-the-breast supplementer, having a thorough feeding assessment to see if extra milk could be obtained that way.

Intuition - How do you feel about the suggestion? Does it make sense to you and is it supportive of your goals? If not, what is being done to help you get as close to your goals as possible? If you are not feeling confident it could be that more conversation and exploration is needed, and that's okay.

Nothing - What would happen if we do nothing? Is this something that needs changing immediately or is there scope for seeing how things pan out for a short while?

Building a strong relationship of trust with your care providers is extremely important. This conversation doesn't need to be confrontational and can give your medical team the chance to explain their reasoning clearly to you so you can work more closely and confidently together. If you are still uncomfortable you could approach an independent expert to talk things through and gather further information.

Thinking things through carefully like this may not change your ultimate course of action but it will change the way you FEEL about that course of action. And that matters.

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