This is the start of World Breastfeeding Week, which runs from the 1st to the 7th August each year. Our focus this year for Day 1 is Health Professionals.

“It takes a village to raise a child; it takes a community to support mothers to breastfeed

Sue Ashmore, Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative

Sue Ashmore of the Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI) wrote in 2017 ‘Just as the saying goes: ‘It takes a village to raise a child’, it takes a community to support mothers to breastfeed.’ (blog for the Huffington Post). That community includes health professionals but also breastfeeding specialists, such as IBCLCs and breastfeeding counsellors, and trained peer supporters.

Health professionals who have contact with mothers and their babies are a crucial part of that village of support. Since the WBTi report was pubished in 2016, an improvement has been the requirement of the NHS England Long-Term Plan (p.49) that all maternity units work towards achieving Baby Friendly accreditation. In comparison, all Scotland and N.I. maternity units were already accredited by 2016. Meeting this requirement will help provide a good basic standard of infant feeding support in English maternity units but as yet there is no requirement for neonatal units or community services (primarily that means the health visiting service) to achieve Baby Friendly status.

Summary table mapping UK health professional standards against WHO Educational Checklist on Infant and Young Child Feeding. See our report part 1 (for the table) and Part 2 (for details of individual health professions) https://ukbreastfeeding.org/wbtiuk2016/

The 2016 WBTi report highlighted the need for better training for most health professionals who work with new mothers. Since then, we’re very pleased to report that many more resources have been made available, including:

  • The GP Infant Feeding Network (GPIFN) and Hospital Infant Feeding Network (HIFN) were created and both have highly informative websites.
  • There have been some improvements to the paediatric and GP education curricula.
  • BFI has produced learning outcomes for students of several professions – medical, dietetic, pharmacy and maternity support workers/nursery nurses.
  • The University of Glasgow, working with BFI, has developed an e-learning module for first year medical students to support meeting the learning outcomes.
  • The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has regularly updated its position statement on breastfeeding, the latest being June 2021, and includes: ‘RCPCH strongly supports breastfeeding, the promotion of breastfeeding, the provision of advice and support for women, and national policies, practices and legislation that are conducive to breastfeeding. All child health professionals should be trained to deliver simple breastfeeding advice.’
  • The Royal College of General Practitioners launched its position statement on breastfeeding in 2017 and then a free e-learning course on breastfeeding in 2018.
  • An e-book for trainee doctors that I wrote, available on our website.
Free e-book on breastfeeding for doctors, by Patricia Wise
https://ukbreastfeeding.org/supporting-mothers-who-breastfeed-a-guide-for-trainee-and-qualified-doctors/

Thus some progress has been made towards the vision of all mothers who want to breastfeed being able to access seamless support from health professionals, additional breastfeeding specialists and trained peer supporters, all of whom value breastfeeding and are knowledgeable enough either to provide evidence-based information and support themselves or signpost to appropriate support.

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Patricia Wise is an NCT Breastfeeding Counsellor and a member of the WBTi UK Steering Group

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