The theme for World Breastfeeding Week this year is “Empower parents, enable breastfeeding,” which fits the philosophy of our WBTi work very well.  The WBTi recommendations have been produced by a Core Group of 18 of the UK’s key government agencies, health professional organisations and charities working in infant and maternal health. The 46 recommendations, across ten areas of policy and programmes, parallel many of the recommendations of previous national breastfeeding initiatives such as the UNICEF Baby Friendly Call to Action, the Becoming Breastfeeding Friendly project (completed in Wales and Scotland so far), and the Breastfeeding Manifesto.


The WBTi assessment and recommendations for action are all about providing the structures, policies and programmes that families need in order to support mothers and infants to be able to breastfeed successfully. It is not a woman’s responsibility on her own, it is the responsibility of ALL of us, across society, to provide the support that mothers and babies need.

This has been echoed by the UN Human Rights experts, who have stated that breastfeeding is a human right of the breastfeeding dyad, and that states/ society is responsible for providing the structural support they need. Likewise this is the key message of the Lancet 2016 Series on Breastfeeding.

Gaps and barriers

Our UK report found many gaps and barriers in ten areas of policy and programmes across the UK:

  1. Lack of national leadership and national strategy on infant feeding, except in Scotland.
  2. Areas where maternity settings still do not meet the minimum UNICEF Baby Friendly standards, in particular in England.
  3. Weak regulations governing marketing by baby milk companies, no regulations governing bottle and teat marketing, and little enforcement of existing provisions.
  4. Lack of provisions to support new mothers to continue breastfeeding when they return to work.
  5. Gaps in health care professional training in infant and young child feeding (See both Part 1 and Part 2 of the WBTi report for full details)
  6. Cuts to peer support and other community breastfeeding support.
  7. No national communications strategy on breastfeeding.
  8. Lack of understanding of current guidance on breastfeeding for HIV+ mothers.
  9. No national guidance on planning for the care of infants and young children in emergencies or disasters.
  10. Poor data collection and monitoring of breastfeeding rates.

Highlights of progress

There are several bright spots, however, and in the two years since the WBTi report and recommendations were published, there have been improvements in several areas

  1. National policy work: Scotland already had strong national policy leadership. Scotland, Wales and England have taken part in the Becoming Breastfeeding Friendly project on scaling up breastfeeding interventions, with a government commitment to act on recommendations.
  2. With the latest NHS England Long Term Plan, all of the UK has now pledged to reach full UNICEF Baby Friendly accreditation in all maternity settings.
  3. Increased awareness of International Code issues in the UK include a relaunch of the UK Baby Feeding Law Group, a coalition of UK organisations working in infant and maternal health, to advocate for implementation of the International Code in UK law.
  4. The Alliance for Maternity Rights has included the protection of flexible breastfeeding/ expressing breaks and suitable facilities in their Action Plan.
  5. Several health professional councils have begun to review their training standards on infant feeding, and a working group led be UNICEF Baby Friendly has launched a new set of learning outcomes for the training of medical students, paediatric nurses, dietitians, pharmacists and maternity support workers/ nursery nurses.
  6. Continued cuts to local authority and public health budgets has continued to severely impact community breastfeeding support such as trained peer support. The WBTi team organised a conference on the public health impact of breastfeeding with the Institute for Health Visiting, exploring in particular the UNICEF Baby Friendly community requirements for “basic” health professional BFI training, “additional” local trained support such as peer support groups, and a “specialist” referral pathway at IBCLC level. The BFI, NICE and Public Health England guidance are clearly explained in the “Guide to the Guidance” by Better Breastfeeding. However there is potential for strengthening the commissioning of integrated breastfeeding services, through the increased profile of breastfeeding in England in the NHS Long Term Plan, breastfeeding representation now being included in the NHS England National Maternity Transformation Programme Stakeholder Group, and in Scotland and Wales with renewed national leadership and funding.
  7. Although no national communication strategies on breastfeeding have been developed, the national governments and public health agencies have developed breastfeeding campaigns and have supported national breastfeeding weeks again across all four nations.
  8. New guidance on infant feeding for HIV+ mothers from the British HIV Association has included detailed guidance on how to support mothers who wish to breastfeed (see also our guest blog from Pamela Morrison IBCLC explaining the new guidance here)
  9. Infant feeding in emergencies is still not covered by national guidance or universally in local disaster resilience planning, however a national forum hosted by Alison Thewliss MP, and led by the UK WBTI team and Dr Ruth Stirton from the University of Sussex Law School has kick-started the discussion to improve awareness and standards.
  10. Monitoring of breastfeeding rates remains uneven across the UK; Scotland has continued to conduct robust infant feeding surveys, while, in England, the PHE data on breastfeeding rates still have gaps in reporting. The UK government has now proposed to reinstate the national infant feeding survey in a new consultation on prevention. See also our blog by Patricia Wise on gaps and changes in our data (including how YOU can access the fingertips data), and guest blog by Phyll Buchanan MSc on how we can use the infant feeding data to reveal insights into health inequalities.

So we are in interesting times – we still face budgetary and cultural challenges, and families still face many barriers.

However change is clearly happening!

Coming up on the WBTi blog for #WBW2019

For World Breastfeeding Week, we are hosting a number of guest blogs detailing some exciting innovations: 
The launch of the Hospital Infant Feeding Network, with a website and a collection of posters and resources for health professionals working with mothers, infants and young children in hospital.

A new set of educational resources on breastfeeding and medications for pharmacists, from the wonderful Wendy Jones.

And a blog looking at some of the public health issues around breastfeeding support in the community, from Alice Allan IBCLC MPH.

Sign up HERE for WBTi’s email list, and don’t forget to sign up to follow our blog! 

Helen Gray IBCLC is Joint Coordinator of the WBTi UK team, with a special interest in supporting families in emergencies.

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