How confident do medical students feel about supporting breastfeeding?

How confident do medical students feel about supporting breastfeeding?

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.

UK Health Professional training standards mapped against WHO educational checklist. From the WBTI UK report. See also Part 2 for details of individual specialisms

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.’

Resources available

Qualified doctors also benefit from improving and updating their skills and knowledge. RCGP’s (Royal College of General Practitioners) Breastfeeding Position Statement has a link in the first sentence to its online resource on breastfeeding. 

by Patricia Wise

I’m very pleased that my e-book Supporting Mothers Who Breastfeed: A guide for trainee and qualified doctors, which is particularly aimed at trainers and trainee doctors, has been included in the Postnatal care guidelines of RCGP Learning.

The GP Infant Feeding Network (GPIFN) and Hospital Infant Feeding Network (HIFN) websites contain extensive information for doctors. 

Other resources include Amy Brown and Wendy Jones’ book A guide for the Medical Professionpublished in December 2019.

Guidance to qualified doctors

Mentioning infant feeding in guidance to doctors to encourage including it in consultations is also important. GP Louise Santhanam (founder of GPIFN) is the lead author of Postnatal Maternal and  Infant care during the COVID-19 Pandemic: a Guide for General Practice that was recently added to the RCGP website. This clarifies that 6-8 week checks need to continue despite the Covid-19 pandemic and that infant feeding should be a routine clinical consideration.

Postnatal Maternal and Infant Care during COVID-19: A Guide for GPs by Louise Santhanam

The challenge

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.

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Banner photo from Freepic

Patricia Wise is an NCT Breastfeeding Counsellor, a member of the WBTi UK Steering Group, and the author of Supporting Mothers Who Breastfeed: A guide for trainee and qualified doctors

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