Breastfeeding, Neurodevelopment and the Microbiome

Breastfeeding, Neurodevelopment and the Microbiome

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are currently responsible for 70% of deaths worldwide and include conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancers, respiratory diseases and diabetes (West 2015). The gut microbiome can be described as the healthy intestinal flora (bacteria) and there is a growing amount of evidence that it can protect infants from developing these NCDs and can influence epigenetic changes (Rollins 2016). The healthy gut flora is largely determined in infancy, with vaginal homebirth and breastfeeding being the biggest contributors (Penders 2006). Therefore, by breastfeeding, it is highly possible that we might be able to reduce the incidence of these NCDs, reduce the suffering from them, on the individuals affected, their friends and family. Not forgetting the economic impact due to time off work which leads to further pressure and strain on families to try and meet the rising cost of living.

The microbiome has also been linked with neurodevelopment. Studies in animals have shown changes in emotional responses and the biochemistry of the brain when changes have been made to the gut flora (Tillisch 2013). An additional cross-sectional study looked at the development of the brain in exclusively breastfed, combination-fed and formula-fed children. The research showed that, by age 2, babies who had been breastfed exclusively for at least three months had enhanced development in key parts of the brain compared to children who were fed formula or combination-fed. The enhanced development was found in areas of the brain that are involved with language, emotional function and cognition (Deoni 2013). Could it be that breastfeeding might play a vital role in influencing children’s neural development? With the raised profile of mental health and the rise in mental health, this is certainly an interesting area for scientists to explore further.


Feature photo credit: PB2007

Kate Butler is a Secondary School Biology teacher by day and mother to two boys (aged 2 and 4) day and night. She trained as a Kate Butlerbreastfeeding peer supporter in 2013 and since then has set up local peer support meetings in her local area and joined the committee of West Herts Breastfeeders to support with fundraising and event management. West Herts Breastfeeders is a community based mum to mum peer support group that supports breastfeeding families with their breastfeeding journeys in the community and within West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust.



Deoni S.C.L., Dean D.C., Piryatinsky I., O’Muircheartaigh J., Waskiewicz N., Lehman K. Han M., Dirks H. Breastfeeding and early white matter development: A cross-sectional study NeuroImage 2013, 82, 77-86.

Penders J, Thijs C, Vink C, et al. Factors influencing the composition of the intestinal microbiota in early infancy. Pediatrics 2006; 118: 511 –21

Rollins N, Bhandari N, Hajeebhoy N et al. Why invest, and what it will take to improve breastfeeding practices? The Lancet 2016; 387(10017): 491–504

Tillisch K, Labus J, Kilpatrick L, et al. Consumption of fermented milk product with probiotic modulates brain activity. Gastroenterology 2013; 144: 1394–401.

West C, Renz H, Jenmalm MC et al. The gut microbiota and inflammatory noncommunicable diseases: Associations and potentials for gut microbiota therapies. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 2015; 135(1): 3–13.

Health outcomes for baby

Health outcomes for baby

The health benefits of breastfeeding for the child are substantial (Grummer-Strawn 2015). They’re thrust at us at our first antenatal appointment and continue to do so throughout our pregnancy. Perhaps another reason that new mums are set up to fail. They are told the importance of why they should breastfeed but not effectively supported in how to breastfeed.

So what health benefits to a child does breastfeeding provide? Breastfed children have a lower risk of obesity (Horta 2015), and subsequently reduced risk of diabetes later in life (Rollins 2016), they have less asthma (Lodge 2015), reduced malocclusion (Peres 2015) – a condition in which the teeth can be seriously misaligned and lead to prolonged and painful treatment to rectify, a lower risk of lower respiratory infections, gastroenteritis, necrotising enterocolitis (the most common gastrointestinal emergency occurring in neonates), middle ear infections and tooth decay (Rollins 2016). More recently, this year, researchers found a beneficial link between the sugars found in breastmilk and their ability to slow the growth of group B Streptococcus – a very nasty bacterial infection that can cause preterm birth, stillbirth, and neonatal sepsis, and two further types of bacterial infection prevalent in children, one linked to MRSA (Ackerman 2018). Rather more concerning is that mortality rates are higher among infants never breastfed compared to those exclusively breastfed for the first 6months and continued to be breastfed beyond 6 months (Sankar 2015) and that the risk of sudden infant death is higher in formula fed infants (Rollins 2016).

This is a timely reminder that breastfeeding is the biological normal, so giving artificial milk actively increases the risk of the conditions stated above. That’s not to say that breastfeeding stops these conditions from happening 100% nor does it mean that if you give formula, the infant will get these. What it means is that if a child is fed artificial milk, they have a higher chance of suffering from these conditions than children who are not. It’s a fact and certainly not an opportunity to “bash” formula feeding mums who didn’t have any other option. But for some mums, during those appetite spurts, when their baby seems to be feeding non-stop, it can be all too easy to reach for the formula. Because they doubt their supply, they doubt their ability that they can do it, and then because their baby guzzles a bottle they can assume they must be starving their baby. But providing the knowledge of why not to give up on a bad day and educating mums on what is normal is what’s important. For a mum to know how to know that her breastfeeding is going just fine. That’s what we should focus on.


Feature photo credit: Adobe Stock




Ackerman D, Craft K, Doster R, Weitkamp J-H, Aronoff D, Gaddy J, Townsend S Antimicrobial and Antibiofilm Activity of Human Milk Oligosaccharides against Streptococcus agalactiae, Staphylococcus aureus, and Acinetobacter baumannii. ACS Infect.Dis., 2018, 4(3), pp 315-324

Grummer-Strawn, L., & Rollins, N. (2015). Summarising the health effects of breastfeeding. Acta Pediatrica, 104(S467), 1–2

Horta BL, de Mola CL, Victora CG. Long-term consequences of breastfeeding on cholesterol, obesity, systolic blood pressure,and type-2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. ActaPaediatr 2015; 104 (Suppl. 467): 30–7

Lodge CJ, Tan DJ, Lau M, Dai X, Tham R, Lowe AJ, et al. Breastfeeding and asthma and allergies: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Paediatr 2015; 104 (Suppl. 467):38–53

Peres KG, Cascaes AM, Nascimento GG, Victora CG. Effect of breastfeeding on malocclusions: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Paediatr 2015; 104 (Suppl. 467): 54–61

Rollins N, Bhandari N, Hajeebhoy N et al. Why invest, and what it will take to improve breastfeeding practices? The Lancet 2016; 387(10017): 491–504

Sankar MJ, Sinha B, Chowdhury R, Bhandari N, Taneja S,Martines J, et al. Optimal breastfeeding practices and infant andchild mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis. ActaPaediatr 2015; 104 (Suppl. 467): 3–13

Breastfeeding and Epigenetics

Breastfeeding and Epigenetics

This is an area of scientific research that absolutely fascinates me! Despite dating back to 1942, it’s a relatively new and exciting area of research! Excuse the little science lesson before I actually get to my key points…

It’s well-known that we inherit 50% of our DNA from our mum and 50% from our dad. Our DNA is our blueprint that, together with our environment, makes us who we are. Epigenetics, a phrase coined by Waddington in 1942, was derived from the Greek word “epigenesis” which originally described the influence of genetic processes on development (Waddington 1942). Our DNA is structured into chromosomes (46 in humans). A chromosome is a very long length of the DNA molecule. Our genes are short sections of the DNA and tell our cells what proteins to make. In different cells, different genes are switched on. For example in the cell of the iris in our eye, there will be a gene switched on to make the proteins that give the eye colour. In a stomach cell, this gene would be switched off, as we don’t need the protein for eye colour in the stomach. Whether a gene is switched on or off is known as gene expression. Epigenetics is the study of how changes in gene expression that are hereditary (i.e. are passed on to children and future generations) happen.

What is the link to breastfeeding? Epigenetic changes to our DNA can be made by environmental and lifestyle factors such as nutrition, chemicals, stress, and emotional experiences (Wilson n.d.). Although the expression of our genes could potentially be altered throughout a person’s lifetime, the most critical time for epigenetic changes is from in utero to age three. Therefore the environment to which a mother is exposed during pregnancy and the nutrition that an infant receives during that period can have significant effects on the expression of their genes. These epigenetic changes may alter and change the predisposition of infants to certain diseases developing and therefore affect their lifelong heath (Wilson, n.d.). On an even deeper level, the egg cell that formed 50% of who our children are or may be, was developing in us when our own mother was pregnant with us. Therefore the environment that she was exposed to may well have initiated epigenetic changes to the DNA in those developing egg cells that have become or may become our children. So what we expose ourselves to, what we expose our children to, doesn’t just affect us and our children, but our future generations. Amazing.


Artwork credit – Amy Haderer, The Mandala Journey

All the eggs a woman will ever carry form in her ovaries while she is a four-month-old foetus in the womb of her mother. This means our cellular life as an egg begins in the womb of our grandmother. Each of us spent five months in our grandmother’s womb, and she in turn formed in the womb of her grandmother. We vibrate to the rhythm of our mother’s blood before she herself is born, and this pulse is the thread of blood that runs all the way back through the grandmothers to the first mother.”

Layne Redmond When the Drummers were Women


Feature photo credit:

Kate Butler is a Secondary School Biology teacher by day and mother to two boys (aged 2 and 4) day and night. She trained as a Kate Butlerbreastfeeding peer supporter in 2013 and since then has set up local peer support meetings in her local area and joined the committee of West Herts Breastfeeders to support with fundraising and event management. West Herts Breastfeeders is a community based mum to mum peer support group that supports breastfeeding families with their breastfeeding journeys in the community and within West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust.



Waddington C.H. “The epigenotype”. Endeavour 1: 18–20 (1942)

Wilson, L. (n.d.). Nutrition and breastfeeding – the long-term impact of breastmilk on health. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 26/07/2018]

World Breastfeeding Week 2018

World Breastfeeding Week 2018

I’ve just finished my 9th academic year of teaching secondary Biology (well 7 really, if you count my two maternity leaves…). It’s ironic, perhaps, that here I am writing a blog to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week (1st August-7th August) where the slogan is breastfeeding: foundation for life. Because you could say that education is also a foundation for life. The similarities are perhaps obvious. They both set you up for a successful future, however you might define success. They both need teachers to teach you how to succeed. They both need supporters, friends, family, to keep you on track and keep you going.

Perhaps the link goes deeper. Breastfeeding is in itself an education. Many would think that as we are mammals, we should know what we’re doing and find it easy. But the reality is that many new mums struggle. One of the key indicators of a successful teacher is one who teaches a learner how to learn. A key indicator of a successful teacher of breastfeeding is one who teaches a mother, teaches a breastfeeding family, how to breastfeed, to know how to know what is normal and what might not be. So that a breastfeeding mum, and her child, don’t “just” breastfeed, they learn the art of breastfeeding together. It’s a learning curve, often a very steep one, for everyone involved.

WBTi WBW pic 8

I’ve been a rather passionate advocate and supporter of breastfeeding for 5 years now. My passion began when I had my first child. I’ve undertaken breastfeeding peer supporter training, volunteered on my local maternity wards and run local mum to mum breastfeeding support groups. I’ve read countless books and articles on the topic. I’ve even dabbled in the politics of it all, taking on massive corporations and looked to influence our national curriculum in schools. Yet despite my experience and my knowledge, I’ve still got a lot to learn. I’m still absolutely aghast that only 1% of babies are still exclusively breastfed at 6 months (Rollins 2016) despite the the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommending exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond (WHO 2018). At 8 weeks, less than half of babies are fed any breastmilk. Most upsetting is that many mothers who started breastfeeding, and then stopped, wished they could have fed for longer (McAndrew 2010).

What I really struggle with is talking about breastfeeding to an audience where breastfeeding hasn’t happened. For whatever reason. And there are many, many, very valid reasons. In the wise words of Professor Amy Brown, stop blaming mums, let’s have a look at society (Brown 2018). What I struggle with is that the moment we become mothers, we are shrouded in mother guilt. Mothers who feed their babies formula very often feel they had no option. Sometimes that is very true. They can feel guilty and very angry that their opportunity to breastfeed is taken away from them. They can find it difficult when they are surrounded by messages such as “breast is best” and can feel personally attacked when breastfeeding is on the agenda for discussion. I find that very hard to overcome when talking to friends and family who might not have breastfed. Breastfeeding mums are often branded as “bottle bashers”, “breastapo”, “lactonazi”. Delightful. But all breastfeeding mums want to do is to help other mums to breastfeed, if it’s what the mum wants to do. Because they’ve been there. They know the challenges and they know what might help.

Professor Amy Brown is right. We need to look at society. It is no one mum’s fault. The lack of support from society, the lack of knowledge from the health professionals who should know (see the World Breastfeeding Trends initiative (WBTi) UK Report with its Indicators, Gaps and Recommendations), the marketing tactics from formula companies. Society sets up our mums to fail at breastfeeding. And fuel that guilt. By the way, breast isn’t best. Breastfeeding is the biological norm. What is best is that mothers are able to make a FULLY informed choice about how they feed their baby. Informed is best. Support is best. Sometimes, that choice is taken away from mothers for various medical reasons. And hallelujah that we have formula to ensure that child is fed and as healthy as possible. Parents who use formula, accurately called artificial milk, should be taught how to feed responsively, close and lovingly in the way that breastmilk is given. To allow the child to take the lead, to take the teat into their own mouth and allow them to control how much and how quickly they drink the milk. Paced feeding, as this is often described, allows parents to feed their child in the most natural of ways and support the closeness and bonding that should accompany feeding (Spiro 2017).

What I want to explore further in the blogs this week is to focus on some of the key reasons why breastfeeding is a foundation for life. Time and time again, the benefits of breastfeeding are thrust upon expectant mums and their families. However without the support infrastructure, too many mums are let down by “the system” and fail to achieve their breastfeeding goals. We’ve heard all too often that we should breastfeed. But why? Thankfully there is far more scientific research and evidence than ever before to support families to make a fully informed choice about how to feed their child. Grummer-Strawn (2015) raises a very valid point in the editorial. Despite the rigours of scientific research, it is important that the reader scrutinises the research to be clear on the strengths and weaknesses of that research so that they can draw informed conclusions. Several of the papers that Grummer-Strawn comments on, and several areas that I will share, demonstrate the major contribution that breastfeeding makes to the foundation for life.


Feature photo credit: Adobe Stock


Kate Butler is a Secondary School Biology teacher by day and mother to two boys (aged 2 and 4) day and night. She trained as a Kate Butlerbreastfeeding peer supporter in 2013 and since then has set up local peer support meetings in her local area and joined the committee of West Herts Breastfeeders to support with fundraising and event management. West Herts Breastfeeders is a community based mum to mum peer support group that supports breastfeeding families with their breastfeeding journeys in the community and within West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust.



Brown A, Dispatches “Breastfeeding Uncovered” First shown July 20th 2018

Grummer-Strawn, L., & Rollins, N. (2015). Summarising the health effects of breastfeeding. Acta Pediatrica, 104(S467), 1–2

McAndrew F, Thompson J, Fellows L et al. Infant Feeding Survey 2010. [ONLINE] Available at: PUB08694/Infant-Feeding-Survey-2010- Consolidated-Report.pdf [Accessed 26/07/2018]

Rollins N, Bhandari N, Hajeebhoy N et al. Why invest, and what it will take to improve breastfeeding practices? The Lancet 2016; 387(10017): 491–504

Spiro A. The public health benefits of breastfeeding. Perspectives in Public Health 2017; 137 No 6:307-308

The World Breastfeeding Trends initiative (WBTi). UK Report Indicators, Gaps and Recommendations [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 26/07/2018]

WHO 2018 [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 26/07/2018]



Breastfeeding – what does it take?

Beautiful African mother kissing her babyBreastfeeding is in the news – with World Breastfeeding Week starting this week on August 1st, a new survey has revealed the severity of cuts to the breastfeeding support that UK mothers rely on – 44% of local authority areas in England are affected by recent recent cuts. The UK leads the world – with the lowest breastfeeding rates anywhere by one year.

So what? Does that really matter?

Just ask the 80% of mothers who have had to stop breastfeeding in the first 6 weeks before they wanted to, because they were struggling and no one knew how to help, according to the 2010 Infant Feeding Survey.,

Just ask public health departments, struggling to deal with rapidly rising obesity, and with a significant percentage of mothers struggling with poor mental health – their risk of postnatal depression doubled by the lack of skilled breastfeeding help according to Borra et al’s research published in 2015.

Just ask the NHS, struggling to cope with over £40 million costs of more GP appointments, antibiotics, and even hospitalisation for just a few of the diseases that breastfeeding could help prevent in women and children (Renfrew: 2012).

Ask the economists, who see overall costs to the economy in the billions, with overall productivity and cognitive ability costs 0.53% of GDP across the population, as described in the 2016 Lancet series on breastfeeding by Rollins et al.

Just ask that one mother, who struggled though sleepless nights, painful nipples, and a crying baby – who was just told “just keep feeding” as her baby’s weight dropped until she was told to “just give a bottle”, who had no friendly and knowledgable circle of experienced breastfeeding mums to support her, who had no access to a skilled lactation specialist to resolve her problems. Once her baby was formula fed, there was no one to advise her on that either. Did it matter to her?

Yes, how we feed our babies matters. It matters for our health and our baby’s health, it matters for our society’s overall wellbeing, it matters for our planet.

What does it take to create a society where feeding babies is valued and supported?

The UK government signed up long ago to a Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, developed by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF.

This outlines the kinds of policies and programmes that are proven to support healthy infant nutrition.

The WBTi (World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative) helps each country to find the gaps in their own services, and to make recommendations to improve support for families along the whole feeding journey, from birth to home and community support, from health professional training to maternity protection at work. You can see the full UK report (Part 1) and supplementary material (Part 2) on the website.

Key findings

Below are some key WBTi findings in the UK, listed by indicator.

These are among the most urgent issues to address in order to improve support for all families in the UK.

Please contact your local public health department, your council and commissioners, and your MP to let them know what families in YOUR area need!

Indicator 1: National policy, programme and coordination

There is no dedicated strategic or clinical infant feeding leadership or strategy in England, and although Scotland and Northern Ireland have strategic leadership, there is no formal joint working or communications across nations. The governments and public health agencies of England, Scotland and Wales have however now committed to a national review of breastfeeding policies and programmes through the Becoming Breastfeeding Friendly project, in order to scale up breastfeeding interventions.

Indicator 2: Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI)

The Baby Friendly Initiative is not mandated across maternity settings in England, although Scotland has now reached 100% BFI accreditation, in both community and maternity services.

Indicator 3: International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes

The World Health Assembly International Code is still only partially enacted in UK law, and hardly enforced. Marketing of baby milks and baby food, bottles and teats remains pervasive.

Indicator 4: Maternity protection

Although parents in the UK generally have paid maternity leave, new mothers have no rights to flexible breaks or facilities to breastfeed or express milk. Maternity Action is highlighting this issue in its campaign to reduce maternity discrimination.

Indicator 5: Health professional training

High level universal standards for most health professions in the UK have many gaps with regard to infant feeding (both breastfeeding and bottle feeding). Work is going on to update standards over time. If you are a health professional, please support your regulatory council or Royal College to address these gaps.

What does your doctor know about breastfeeding?
Mapping of pre-registration health professional training against the WHO Education Checklist

Indicator 6: Community-based support

In 2016, the WBTi report was the first to map out the provision of trained breastfeeding support by the UK voluntary organisations, along with cuts that were happening in community breastfeeding support (see Part 2 of the WBTI report, pages 28-32). An updated survey of cuts to community breastfeeding support has been released this week by Better Breastfeeding.

Indicator 7: Information support

Some parts of the UK have started to observe a national breastfeeding week or World Breastfeeding Week, although not all NHS information on breastfeeding is accurate or up to date

Indicator 8: Infant feeding and HIV

The UK is one of few developed countries to have HIV policies that incorporate the most recent WHO guidance, although many health professionals are not trained in them.

Indicator 9: Infant and young child feeding during emergencies

There is currently no central guidance on caring for infants in emergencies, and many local areas lack specific plans. The WBTi team is producing a policy brief and recommendations with the University of Sussex Law School.

Indicator 10: Monitoring and evaluation

Current data collection is weak and there are still many gaps in the new datasets on maternal and infant health. It is essential to include not only breastfeeding initiation and rates at 6-8 weeks, but also continued breastfeeding at 6 months and beyond.

‘Success in breastfeeding is not the sole responsibility of a woman – the promotion of breastfeeding is a collective social responsibility.’ 

Rollins, The Lancet



Credit: banner photo Adobe Stock


Helen Gray IBCLC photo

Helen Gray IBCLC is Joint Coordinator of the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) UK Working Group. She is on the national committee of Lactation Consultants of Great Britain, and is also an accredited La Leche League Leader. She represents LLLGB on the UK Baby Feeding Law Group, and serves on the La Leche League International special committee on the International Code.

Shared Parental Leave and the right to breastfeed on return to work

Shared Parental Leave and the right to breastfeed on return to work

Guest blog by Rosalind Bragg, Director of Maternity Action

Maternity Action’s work centres on protecting the rights of pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace. As a member of the WBTi Core Group, Maternity Action was responsible for gathering most of the information on Indicator 4, “Maternity Protection in the workplace.” They have very kindly allowed us to republish their blog on the current status of breastfeeding in the workplace here during UK National Breastfeeding Weeks. 

The original blog can be found on Maternity Action’s website here, along with a range of resources on maternity rights. Follow Maternity Action for updates on their campaigns on this and other important maternity rights.


The right to breastfeeding breaks and facilities is a gap in the policy framework to support new parents to balance work and family responsibilities.  The current review of Shared Parental Leave policies is an opportunity to remedy this omission.

On May 15, we presented to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding focusing on Maternity Action’s campaigning against pregnancy and maternity discrimination and the particular challenges facing breastfeeding women in the workplace.

Women in the UK who wish to combine work and breastfeeding have very weak legal protections.  Health and safety regulations provide breastfeeding women with the right to a place to rest and to a health and safety risk assessment.  While some employers may offer regular breaks to breastfeed or express milk and a private space in which to do so, these are not required by law.

For most women, flexible working requests are the only legal avenue to seek adjustments to their working conditions to facilitate breastfeeding.  Employers must seriously consider flexible working requests but can refuse them if they have a good business reason for doing so.  On our advice line, we regularly hear from women struggling to negotiate flexible working arrangements on return to work.  Employers can, and often do, reject reasonable requests for adjustments to working conditions.

Many of the UK’s trading partners have more constructive approaches to balancing breastfeeding and work.  Germany provides paid breastfeeding breaks and facilities while the US provides unpaid breaks.  Australia offers an alternative form of protection by prohibiting discrimination on grounds of breastfeeding.  These are just a few examples.  It is unsurprising that the recent World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) review rated the UK 67th out of 91 countries on its law, policy and programmes that support breastfeeding women.

The current review of the Shared Parental Leave scheme provides an opportunity for Government to reconsider its approach to breastfeeding and work.  In 2013, when debates were underway on the new scheme, Maternity Action campaigned for a statutory right to breastfeed on return to work.  While this did result in ACAS guidance on the issue, legal protections were not forthcoming.

It is extraordinary that a scheme to encourage parents to share leave from their child’s first weeks should pay so little attention to breastfeeding.  The Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months and breastfeeding in conjunction with solid food thereafter.  Given the absence of legal protections for breastfeeding women, the vast majority of women who share leave will need to stop breastfeeding prior to return to work.  This reduces the number of women prepared to share leave with their partner and also contributes to the UK’s low rate of breastfeeding.

Whether women breastfeed or not, and for how long, is a decision for each woman to make.  The role of the law is to remove impediments to breastfeeding, enabling women to make decisions based on their own needs, not the convenience of their employers or other equally irrelevant factors.  It is long past time that UK employment law caught up with that of its trading partners and provided formal legal protection for breastfeeding on return to work.



Local Breastfeeding Support: contact your MP!

Local Breastfeeding Support: contact your MP!

Concerned about gaps in community breastfeeding support in your area?

Did you struggle to find the support you needed to continue to breastfeed? Public Health England have found that 8 out of 10 women would have like to carry on breastfeeding for longer.

Do breastfeeding support services seem like a postcode lottery?


This is YOUR chance to act!!!
Write NOW – during “National Breastfeeding Week” – to your own MP, asking what is being done to address this in your area, and ALSO asking your MP to ask the government what THEY are doing to support and protect breastfeeding.

This sample letter has been developed by Better Breastfeeding for everyone to send to their local MPs.

Better Breastfeeding are also hosting a petition to the Minister for Public Health, and a survey of mothers’ experiences of breastfeeding cuts, so once you’ve written your letter to your MP, please back it up by spending a few minutes signing the petition and responding to the survey HERE.


NOTE: It’s best to put the letter in your own words, but here are some suggestions. Just choose whatever is most relevant to you and to your own area.

Template letter for individuals to write to their MPs during breastfeeding week

Dear [Local MP – look up here]

I am very concerned about the lack of provision of breastfeeding support in [my constituency] and I want to know what can be done about this.

There have been cuts to breastfeeding support [describe them];

The Unicef Baby Friendly UK standards, supported by Public Health England commissioning guidance and NICE guidance, recommend integrated breastfeeding support in the community, comprised of:

  1. Basic support: provided by health professionals like health visitors, with Baby Friendly training as a minimum
  2. Additional support: social and trained breastfeeding peer support networks
  3. Specialist support from qualified lactation specialists for complex breastfeeding challenges

But in our area we only have [describe gaps in local services]



There is very little practical support for mums who want to breastfeed [describe what’s available]

Whereas in [neighbouring area] there is much more support [describe what’s available if you know]

This has affected me [describe your personal experience]




I’ve seen how this is affecting mums in [my constituency – describe how they’re affected]

I know that it is the responsibility of councils to provide breastfeeding support to mothers in their local areas. But I’d like to know what the government is doing to make sure that councils actually deliver this and hold them to account.
This week is supposed to be National Breastfeeding Celebration Week in England [Last week was National Breastfeeding Week in Scotland and Wales] but I see very little emphasis from government on this important public health issue.

Mothers in [my constituency] are feeling let down, and our low breastfeeding continuation rates show that babies are missing out too.

Yours sincerely,

[My name

Full address


Contact telephone number]

MPs will not respond unless they have these full details to show that you’re their constituent



IMAGES from @Start4Life and @VivBennett, #CelebrateBreastfeeding campaign