A number of local and national breastfeeding support organisations have documented cuts to funding and services providing breastfeeding support. This briefing paper was developed by several organisations with the help of volunteers from the WBTi UK team, setting out the current situation in England. It includes a partial list of cuts at the time of writing. Funding situations do change so please send any updates or corrections to email@example.com.
Following The Lancet’s series on breastfeeding, published on 30 January, reports in the press largely focused on Britain having “the worst breastfeeding rates in the world”. We knew that wasn’t quite right – rates of starting breastfeeding are relatively high, but they drop off rapidly. Yet, at the same time, the UK is experiencing profound cuts to breastfeeding support services – one of the very things needed to get those breastfeeding rates rising.
So, we organised an Open Letter calling on all four governments of the UK to safeguard public health budgets and end those cuts. The letter also outlines the series of measures needed to improve breastfeeding – rates, duration, and experiences. We are delighted that the letter has been signed by midwives, health visitors, lactation consultants, infant feeding leads, GPs, paediatricians, breastfeeding counsellors, peer supporters, university researchers, and others working in the area of baby feeding and health.
Do you want to help bring about real changes to breastfeeding in the UK? If so, read on, because every baby born in this country needs your help.
If you’ve been a regular on the UK Breastfeeding blog then you’ll know all about the WBTi, and how it is identifying every aspect of breastfeeding policy and practice that is falling short and generating recommendations for how they can be improved.
But how can we make sure that those recommendations get put into practice? That’s where you come in – by influencing your MP and making sure they understand that this issue is important to you and to thousands of other families in their constituency.
In November, the WBTi steering group was delighted to be invited to the first-ever meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Infant Feeding and Inequalities. This was organised by Alison Thewliss MP, who is as committed as we are to bringing about real improvements to infant health through breastfeeding.
All Party Parliamentary Groups are an excellent way to educate and inform interested MPs, who can then take questions to the floor of the House of Commons, help to push issues to the top of the political agenda, and hold government ministers to account. There are APPGs for every subject under the sun, but until now there has not been one dedicated to infant feeding, which affects every baby in this country!
At the meeting in November, Helen Gray and Clare Meynell gave an excellent presentation on the WBTi project, explaining why politicians should care about breastfeeding and how current practices result in so many mothers stopping breastfeeding much earlier than they wanted to.
But, by the time they had begun their first slide, Alison Thewliss was the only MP still in the room!
Clearly, we need more MPs to come along and listen to these important messages and to push for change on behalf of the mothers and babies in their constituencies and around the country.
So please spare 5 minutes to write to your MP to make sure they attend the next meeting (for MPs only), which is on Tuesday 19th January at 9.30am in Room W1 of Westminster Hall. Can you spare those few moments to help make a difference?
As MPs are more likely to respond to your own letter than to a standard letter, the best approach is to adapt the short letter below using your own words. If you can add information about your own experience and why you think the APPG is needed, that would have even more impact.
It is essential to include your name and address (and postcode) as MPs can only respond to requests from their own constituency.
Once you have identified who your local MP is, send them the following message. Remember to include your full name and postcode.
Please feel free to send us any response you receive from your MP.
Model letter (please adapt):
Dear [insert MP’s name]
As my local MP, I am writing to ask if you will represent me, and an interest close to my heart, in the House of Commons?
There have been efforts to establish an All Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding & Inequalities in the UK Parliament. Although the group tried to form in November, I understand that there wasn’t enough cross-party representation, particularly from Conservative and Labour MPs. I was really disappointed to learn that this actually prohibited the group from getting off the ground.
However, I gather that there is another short meeting for MPs to establish the APPG on Tuesday 19th January at 9.30am in W1 of Westminster Hall.
Will you attend the meeting on my behalf and ensure this group gets off the ground? Will you add your name to join the group?
There are so many important discussions and campaigns which should be considered around the area of infant feeding, and I would be delighted if you, as my MP, could attend and help raise this issue on my behalf.
Today is World Aids Day, so what better time to look at the issue of breastfeeding and HIV? Indicator 8 of the World Breastfeeding Trends initiative (WBTi) examines what policies countries have in place to protect HIV-positive mothers and their babies.
Read what the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action has to say today on this important topic.
Thirty years since the first report appeared documenting transmission of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) through breastfeeding, breastfeeding by HIV-Positive mothers has never been as safe as it is now in 2015. So long as several easily achievable conditions are fulfilled, the risk of transmission of the virus through mother’s milk can be reduced to almost zero (0-1%). [Read more…]
74 percent of mothers initiated breastfeeding 44 percent of mothers were still breastfeeding at 6–8 weeks
– Public Health Outcomes Framework (England) 2014/15
90 percent of women who stop breastfeeding in the first six weeks report giving up before they wanted to
– David Bull, Executive Director UNICEF UK
Most mothers in the UK want to breastfeed, yet most mothers stop breastfeeding before they want to. Why?
The fact is that while breastfeeding is natural, mothers need skilled support to be able to breastfeed. Yet many of the health professionals who work with mothers and babies do not have the knowledge or skills to help them.
Indicator 5 of the WBTi examines how well healthcare systems support breastfeeding. It looks in detail at the training of all health professionals who interact with mothers and babies – midwives, health visitors, GPs, paediatricians, lactation consultants and others – both before and after they qualify in their profession. You can see the full education checklist here.
Support for mothers comes from many sources, not just health professionals. It can come from family, friends, the community at large, and particularly breastfeeding peer-support groups. In the UK, these are run by organisations like the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, Breastfeeding Network, La Leche League, NCT, as well as by the NHS itself. Mothers who have breastfed their own babies – and who have received training to provide breastfeeding support – are able to provide valuable help to new mothers.
In the UK, just 1 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months. Common reasons that mothers give for stopping breastfeeding include:
finding breastfeeding painful
concerns about their milk supply
conflicting advice from health professionals
lack of support
Peer supporters are “informed friends” who can help mothers understand what’s normal and help with many common breastfeeding concerns. They offer a compassionate and empathetic ear to new mothers.
This importance of this community-level support is recognised in Indicator 6 of the WBTi, which looks in detail at access to skilled mother support and community outreach. Good peer-support programmes can increase the length of time that mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies. In other words, they can help mothers who want to breastfeed to carry on for as long they choose.
When the Industrial Revolution began, women started to go out to work in large numbers and breastfeeding began to decline, spurring the development of alternative ways of feeding babies. Yet, 200 years on, the question of how to combine breastfeeding and work still remains for women around the globe.
health protection, job protection and non-discrimination for pregnant and breastfeeding workers
at least 14 weeks of paid maternity leave
one or more paid breastfeeding breaks or daily reduction of hours of work to breastfeed
as well as recommending that space be provided nearby for working mothers to breastfeed or express their milk.
There is also a recognition of the extra challenges faced by women who work in the “informal economy”, such as those in casual or freelance work, who don’t always have the same protections as other women.
Each year, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action produces a snapshot of the state of maternity protection around the world, which makes for some interesting comparisons.
Indicator 4 of the World Breastfeeding Trends initiative (WBTi) looks in much more detail at the laws and practices in each country to score them on the maternity protection they offer. Fathers are recognised too, because of their important role in nurturing babies and supporting breastfeeding, so the length of paternity leave is also included in the score.
How do you think the UK compares to other countries in protecting breastfeeding mothers at work? What was your experience of returning to work while breastfeeding? What would have made it easier?
A baby is born and placed on his mother’s chest. His newborn reflexes kick in and he starts to crawl to her breast, calm and alert. This skin-to-skin contact triggers a surge in oxytocin – the so-called “mothering hormone” – and she responds by instinctively helping him to the breast. He latches on, and her milk flows.
When breastfeeding begins in this uninterrupted way, soon after birth, research shows that babies are more likely to breastfeed well, and mothers tend to continue to breastfeeding for longer.
Now compare this to the typical birth scenario, repeated in so many maternity hospitals:
A baby is born, and her cord is cut. The midwife announces “It’s a girl!” and then wipes the baby clean and wraps her up. Then she passes her to her mother. Then the baby is passed to her father. After a few minutes, the midwife unwraps the screaming baby and puts her on the scales and gives her a vitamin K injection. The baby is dressed and returned to her mother.
There is clear evidence for better outcomes for babies born in Baby Friendly hospitals – for example, a study in Scotland found that these babies are 28 percent more likely to be exclusively breastfed at 7 days old.
The meaning of Baby Friendly has also evolved over time, and in recent years it has moved beyond the ten steps. In the UK, as well as protecting breastfeeding, the Baby Friendly approach now helps mothers to begin a nurturing relationship with their baby – and this protection applies to all babies, whether or not they are breastfed.
The Baby Friendly Initiative has also moved beyond maternity hospitals. In the UK, it is now possible for university courses, health visitors, children’s centres, and neonatal units to become Baby Friendly accredited.
The World Breastfeeding Trends initiative (WBTi) assessment scores each country out of 5 based on how many Baby Friendly hospitals it has. It needs have more than 89 percent of its hospitals and maternity units accredited to gain the top rating.
The assessment also looks at the quality of the Baby Friendly programme – how comprehensive the training is, whether it monitors hospitals adequately, whether mothers’ experiences are taken into account – for another possible score of 5.