Shocking gaps in emergency preparedness for Europe’s babies

Shocking gaps in emergency preparedness for Europe’s babies

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how important it is for countries to protect their citizens from illness.

Yet a new WBTi regional report shows gaps in support for families across Europe, with the poorest overall scores in national leadership and, shockingly, emergency preparedness, where the UK scored 0/10. This pandemic is an emergency for infants and young children and only North Macedonia was found to have an adequate strategy.

Babies who are breastfed have better health and resistance to infection, and most mothers want to breastfeed. Yet many European mothers stop or reduce breastfeeding in the early weeks and months, and bottle feeding is prevalent, due to inadequate support from health systems and society.

Launched today, the first European report on infant and young child feeding policies and practices, Are our babies off to a healthy start?, compares 18 countries and identifies the considerable improvements they need to make in supporting mothers who want to breastfeed. A summary report has been published today in the International Breastfeeding Journal .

The full report can be downloaded from the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative global website.    

The new report, Are our babies off to a healthy start?, compares the  implementation of WHO’s Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding across 18 European countries. The comparisons show clearly that inadequate support and protection for breastfeeding mothers is a Europe-wide problem. The health of babies, mothers and whole populations  lose out as a result. However, countries do differ considerably. Turkey rates highest overall; the five countries with the lowest scores belong to the European Union. 

     ‘Nutrition is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals related to health, education, sustainable development, reduction of inequalities and more.’

Joao Breda, Head, WHO European Office for Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases

The scope of the assessment is wide-ranging, with ten policy and programme indicators, including national leadership, Baby Friendly hospital and community practices, marketing controls on breastmilk substitutes, health professional training, emergency preparedness and monitoring. There are also five feeding practices indicators, such as exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, a WHO recommendation. 

The original assessments were all carried out using the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi), a tool first developed in 2004 by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) but only launched in Europe in 2015. It requires collaboration with relevant organisations within a country on assessment scores, gaps identified and recommendations for improvements. The Report highlights good practice, enabling countries to learn from one another.

     ˝Success …rests first and foremost on achieving political commitment at the highest level and assembling the indispensable human and financial resources.’

WHO Global Strategy 2003

If governments, other policymakers, hospitals and community services, public health departments, institutions that train health professionals, and others, adopt the report recommendations, it will enable more mothers to initiate and continue breastfeeding, strengthening the health of the population for the future.

The WBTi European Working Group, led by Dr. Irena Zakarija-Grkovic of Croatia, produced the Report and comprises coordinators from European countries which have carried out a WBTi assessment. The production of the report was supported by the Croatian Ministry of Health and UNICEF Croatia.

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UK media contact: wbti@ukbreastfeeding.org

New e-book on breastfeeding for doctors and trainees

New e-book on breastfeeding for doctors and trainees

Background

Doctors have an important role to play in supporting mothers who are breastfeeding, through providing encouragement, accurate information and signposting to sources of specialist and peer support. Their impact can be significant because doctors and their advice are held in such high regard, and this is particularly important in the UK, where a mother’s intention to breastfeed can so easily be undermined.

There are doctors who have made themselves really knowledgeable but sadly the UK universal standards for pre-registration medical training in breastfeeding have significant gaps, as shown by Indicator 5 of the WBTi 2016 report (see Part 1 for the summary table below, and Part 2 for the details of standards for different health professions)

Curriculum developments

However, there have been some positive changes since the publication of the WBTi UK report.

Paediatrician training

Level 2 of the RCPCH general curriculum for paediatricians (section Capabilities in Health Promotion and Illness Prevention) has been revised and lists more breastfeeding topics (https://www.rcpch.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2018-03/rcpch_progress_curriculum_level_2_generic_syllabus_for_use_from_1_aug_2018.pdf).

GP training

GP training has also been revised by the RCGP with more mentions of breastfeeding/ infant feeding in the topic guides on Children and Young People and Maternity and Reproductive Health (https://www.rcgp.org.uk/-/media/Files/GP-training-and-exams/Curriculum-2019/Curriculum-Topic-Guides-300819.ashx?la=en).

The WBTi UK team contributed to both curriculum consultations.

GP Infant Feeding Network and Hospital Infant Feeding Network

Dr. Louise Santhanam founded the GP Infant Feeding Network (GPIFN) in 2016 and in 2019 Drs Vicky Thomas and Ilana Levene launched the Hospital Infant Feeding Network (HIFN), which are valuable resources for medical professionals. See our series of three guest blogs from HIFN: Launch of HIFN, #DontStopLookItUp campaign on prescribing for breastfeeding women, and free posters on breastfeeding issues in the hospital setting.

New learning outcomes published by Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative

Doctors have a long training so there needs to be input at different stages of training and also encouragement for already qualified doctors to update. A group looking at this was initiated by the WBTi team and went on to be led by Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative, and chaired by paediatrician Charlotte Wright. Unicef UK Baby Friendly launched the resulting infant feeding learning outcomes in World Breastfeeding Week, with accompanying resources expected to follow soon (see our August 2019 blog). These are intended as a guide for training for various health professions from undergraduate courses through to the point of qualification.

New online book for trainee doctors

My book, Supporting mothers who breastfeed: a guide for trainee and qualified doctors, is primarily for trainee doctors but relevant to qualified doctors too. At the trainee stage they have specialised and are working clinically. The book provides a combination of factual knowledge about breastfeeding and an insight into mothers’ experiences. It includes some examples of good practice in responding to common situations and ends with a short quiz. It is available on the WBTi website (https://ukbreastfeeding.org/supporting-mothers-who-breastfeed-a-guide-for-trainee-and-qualified-doctors/) as a free PDF. Being electronic, it is easy to click on links to be taken to references and sources of further information, and can be updated more readily than a paper book. 

I am very grateful to Charlotte Wright, who is Professor of Community Child Health at the University of Glasgow and a consultant paediatrician, for writing the foreword.

If you know any trainees or qualified doctors, perhaps you would pass the weblink to them.

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