This blog explores links that can be made between the gifts described in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song and the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative 2016 report

Day 1 – a partridge in a pear tree

Just as a partridge can find support and protection in the branches of a pear tree, each breastfeeding dyad needs a society that provides a supportive structure; to achieve this needs  coordination at national level through having a national policy, a strategic plan and effective implementation of that plan (WBTi Indicator 1). 

Jeremy Hunt, when Secretary of State for Health, declared that 

“The government is implementing the vision set out in the WBTi UK report. The Maternity Transformation Programme seeks to achieve the vision set out in the report by bringing together a wide range of organisations to work in nine areas… this includes promoting the benefits of breastfeeding by

  • Providing national leadership for breastfeeding celebration week;
  • Publishing breastfeeding initiation data;
  • Publishing breastfeeding profiles; and
  • Improving the quality of data on breastfeeding prevalence at 6-8 weeks after birth.”

A national assessment of UK breastfeeding policies and programmes, “Becoming Breastfeeding Friendly,” has now begun across England, Scotland, and Wales, led by the national governments and public health agencies and the University of Kent. Importantly, this initiative requires government commitment to implementing the resulting recommendations.

Another positive development since the WBTi report in 2016 is that in April 2018 Public Health England created a one-year Midwifery Adviser post for a seconded health professional whose responsibilities include breastfeeding, funded by the National Maternity Transformation Programme.

Day 2 – two turtle doves

This fits very well with Indicator 2 as it assesses the extent to which maternity-related services are Baby-Friendly accredited and the standards support loving relationships. Since the WBTi report, percentages of UK accreditations have increased as follows (2016 figure in brackets):

  • maternity services  62% (58%)
  • health visiting services  67% (62%)
  • universities: 43% (36%) midwifery and 17% (15%) of health visiting courses
  • childrens’ centres  16 (0)
  • neonatal units   6 (0)

Births taking place in fully accredited hospitals:

The WBTi recommendations call for “implementation and maintenance of Baby Friendly standards in all healthcare settings” in England and Wales. New maternity plans in December 2018 from the Department for Health and Social Care include “asking all maternity services to deliver an accredited, evidence-based infant feeding programme in 2019 to 2020, such as the UNICEF Baby Friendly initiative.” 
We would urge the government to extend the expectation of Unicef Baby Friendly accreditation as a minimum in community settings and Health Visiting Services, in neonatal units, and in midwifery and health visitor training programmes.

Day 3 – three French hens

The French hens are believed to symbolise the virtues of faith, hope and charity. Indicator 3 assesses the extent of implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent WHA resolutions. There is faith, that incorporating the Code and resolutions in a country’s laws improves protection for all babies from commercial interests, as the experiences of individual countries like Brazil shows. There is hope that the Code and Resolutions will one day be implemented in UK law. Charity includes helping the vulnerable, such as babies.

Relatively recent changes include the World Health Assembly passing resolution 69.9 in May 2016, welcoming the new World Health Organisation 2016 guidance which clarifies that the Code applies to all milks and commercially produced foods marketed as suitable for infants and young children up to 36 months. A new Implementation Manual for this WHO guidance is also available.

The charity, Save the Children Fund, published its report Don’t Push It: Why the formula milk industry must clean up its act in February 2018.

The Changing Markets Foundation has published two recent exposés of formula company marketing tactics: Milking It and Busting the Myth of Science-Based Formula

The First Steps Nutrition Trust has published numerous reports and statements on topics around the marketing and nutritional composition of infant formula and baby foods 

In addition, the First Steps Nutrition Trust is now taking on the role of secretariat to the Baby Feeding Law Group (BFLG), a coalition of UK organisations working in maternal and infant health who work to bring UK law into compliance with the International Code. The WBTi UK Steering team is a member of the BFLG.

Day 4 – four calling birds

Indicator 4 assesses the protection and support provided by workplaces for employees who are breastfeeding. Four organisations helping to improve the situation include:

Since the publication of the WBTi report, tribunal fees were abolished in 2017

Day 5 – five gold rings

Gold is associated with precious things, and colostrum is known as “liquid gold.”

Indicator 5 assesses both the extent to which care providers are trained in infant and young child feeding and how supportive health service policies are. There are five professions which work most closely with mothers, infants and young children: midwives, obstetricians, paediatricians, health visitors and GPs. If they value breastfeeding and have the training to support mothers effectively they can serve as a golden chain of support.

 However, the WBTi report showed that there are gaps in health professional pre-registration standards in relation to the WHO Education checklist for topics they need to know about. Part 2 of the WBTi report contains further details for each health profession. In 2016, the General Medical Council published its revised Generic Professional Capabilities Framework, which all postgraduate medical curricula must fit. This includes a domain covering capabilities in health promotion and illness prevention. Medical curricula have to be revised to fit the framework and the RCPCH training for paediatricians now includes more about infant feeding at Level 2 (p.31)  Also, the RCPCH made a detailed policy statement on breastfeeding in 2017  and the RCGP developed a position statement on breastfeeding in 2018

The midwifery standards are currently undergoing a thorough review and there will be a consultation in February 2019. 

Members of the WBTi team have been supporting the work of revising and updating professional standards, and a working group led by Unicef Baby Friendly has now formed to take this work forward.

Day 6  – six geese a-laying

In the song the geese symbolise the six days of creation. 

Indicator 6 covers community-based support. So many mothers stop breastfeeding before they want to that it is really important to create an integrated system of support to avoid mothers falling into gaps between services. Six key aspects are:

  • Basic support: Health visitors and other health workers trained to a minimum Baby Friendly standard provide basic but universal help with feeding.
  • Additional: A peer support programme with trained peer supporters provides ongoing social support.
  • Specialist: For more challenging situations, mothers need to be able to access specialist help, for example from certified lactation consultants and breastfeeding counsellors.
  • Ready access to a tongue-tie division service where appropriate.
  • Good data collection is needed to underpin all these services.
  • Families must receive clear information about the services available.

WBTi Indicators 7-12 are covered in part 2

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  • Images from WBTi UK Report and Microsoft ClipArt

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