This is the start of World Breastfeeding Week 2020, which runs from the 1st to the 7th August. WBW is a global campaign to raise awareness and galvanise action on themes related to breastfeeding and commemorates the 1990 Innocenti Declaration. Since 2016, WBW has been aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Breastfeeding can be hard in the early weeks under normal circumstances, adjusting to meeting the needs of a vulnerable human being, including urgent frequent feeding, and the tiredness that results from being on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If feeding is painful it feels even harder. That is why having skilled breastfeeding support readily available, for any mother that needs it, is so important. Breastfeeding usually becomes much easier and more enjoyable as the weeks pass, especially if worries about painful feeds or milk supply or difficulties due to causes like tongue-tie are resolved, and is helped by babies tending to have more spaced and shorter feeds.
This year Covid-19 lockdown has been an added complication, particularly for new families as they have minimal face-to-face contacts.
What have the challenges and highlights been for you? You can share your experiences using the Leave a Reply box below.
A new study by trainee doctor Kirsty Biggs and senior colleagues has shown that 97% of the 411 medical students who responded to a survey are uncertain of their practical skills to support new mothers with breastfeeding, such as helping with latch issues, although the overall benefits of breastfeeding were moderately well-known. Yet most students (93%) perceived doctors to have an important role in supporting breastfeeding and the same percentage requested further breastfeeding education.
Over 80% of the respondents had a career interest in obstetric and gynaecology, paediatrics and/or general. While the sample was only around 1% of UK medical students, and only one-quarter of the students responding were male, it’s a very clear message that breastfeeding education overall is not adequate.
Around 80% of the 32 UK medical schools eligible responded to their part of the survey and results indicate that only 70% of medical schools provide compulsory breastfeeding education.
WBTI’s findings and vision
The WBTi UK report in 2016 indicated that medical curricula have many gaps with regard to breastfeeding, and Biggs’ study confirms that the students themselves find it inadequate. WBTi UK’s vision is that all doctors have sufficient training in infant feeding to protect the decisions of mothers who want to breastfeed.
How can the situation be improved? High level standards and Unicef BFI learning outcomes
The General Medical Council provides broad guidelines for undergraduate curricula in its Outcomes for Graduates document and each medical school devises its own curriculum to fit the guidelines. For example, the expectation under the Outcomes Health promotion and illness prevention section is: ‘Newly qualified doctors must be able to apply the principles, methods and knowledge of population health and the improvement of health and sustainable healthcare to medical practice’. Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative’s learning outcomes for several professions, including medical students, published in November 2019 are highly relevant to improving curricula and accompanying resources are being developed.
RCPCH curriculum – an encouraging sign
Medical training is long, with undergraduate, Foundation and then specialty training. The RCPCH (Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health) states as part of its activity to promote breastfeeding: ‘The RCPCH training curriculum for General Paediatricians and all paediatric subspecialties requires training to understand the importance of breastfeeding and lactation physiology, be able to recognise common breastfeeding problems, have knowledge of formula and complementary feeding, and be able to advise mothers or refer for support.’
Thus plenty of resources are available but doctors are busy people. While some really understand the importance of protecting breastfeeding, and know how to – such as signposting mothers to local skilled help – the challenge is how to bring this into every medical student’s training.
If you know anyone at medical school, it would be really useful if you can let them know about Kirsty Biggs’ study.