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 theInternational Breastfeeding Journal.
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.
The new government needs to prioritise the first 1001 days of a child’s life, from conception to age two, to enable children to survive and thrive. How an infant is fed and nurtured strongly influences a child’s future life chances and emotional health. Importantly, if a woman breastfeeds there are substantial health benefits for her – having impacts onher future long after breastfeeding has stopped.
Independent, practical, evidence-based information and support is essential for every family. Supporting women with breastfeeding can go a long way to protecting children and mothers from a wide range of preventable ill health, including obesity and mental health problems.
This window of opportunity cannot be missed for the future health outcomes of mothers and the next generation. In addition to well documented health outcomes, supporting breastfeeding will also contribute to a stronger economy – potential annual savings to the NHS are estimated at about £40 million per year from just a moderate increase in breastfeeding rates.
Support for breastfeeding is also an environmental imperative and recognition of the contribution breastfeeding can make to avoiding environmental degradation should be a matter of increasing global and political attention.
In the UK, the majority of women start to breastfeed but breastfeeding rates drop rapidly – our continuation rates are some of the lowest in the world and are even lower amongst women living in deprived areas, where increasing rates could make a real difference to health inequalities. Support for all women, parents and families with breastfeeding falls short of what is wanted and needed.
Women tell us they encounter difficulties with the public perceptions of breastfeeding out of the home. Families tell us they are still regularly exposed to conflicting messaging and marketing for formula milks that drowns out advice from healthcare professionals.
Women tell us they receive little to no help with infant feeding and that their health visitors, midwives and doctors often have little training or knowledge about breastfeeding and limited time to support them.
Recent cuts in health visitor numbers and breastfeeding peer support services mean many women may be left without the support they need however they choose to feed their infants.
Despite robust evidence showing that investment in breastfeeding support and protection makes sense, politically breastfeeding has been viewed by governments as a lifestyle choice and so left to parents to work out for themselves. For too many women, trying to breastfeed without support, or stopping before they want to, is deeply upsetting and the situation is made worse by fragmented care, and poor and often conflicting advice from those they are seeking to support them. To ensure an increase in breastfeeding rates, to help reverse obesity rates and to reduce widening health inequalities will require significant investment in breastfeeding.
It is essential that our new government prioritises breastfeeding and invests in its support and protection.
We call on all political parties to commit to the following actions, if elected:
To appoint a permanent, multi-sectoral infant and young child feeding strategy group and develop, fund and implement a national strategy to improve infant and young child feeding practices.
To include actions to promote, protect and support breastfeeding in all policy areas where breastfeeding has an impact.
To implement the Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative across community and paediatric services, building on the recommendation for maternity services in the NHS Long Term Plan.
To protect babies from harmful commercial interests by bringing the full International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes into UK law and enforcing this law.
To commission, and sustainably fund, universal breastfeeding support programmes delivered by specialist/lead midwives and health visitors or suitably qualified breastfeeding specialists, such as IBCLC lactation consultants and breastfeeding counsellors, alongside trained peer supporters with accredited qualifications.
To maintain and expand universal, accessible, affordable and confidential breastfeeding support through the National Breastfeeding Helpline and sustaining the Drugs in Breastmilk Service.
To deliver universal health visiting services and the Healthy Child Programme by linking in with local specialist and support services.
To establish/re-establish universal Children’s Centres with a focus on areas of deprivation, offering breastfeeding peer support.
To make it a statutory right of working mothers and those in education to work flexibly as required and to access a private space and paid breaks to breastfeed and/or express breastmilk and manage its safe storage.
To commit to resourcing for charitableorganisations who play a key role within the health agenda working at a national and local level to support families and communities with infant feeding.
To support the commitment to undertake an Infant Feeding Survey which builds on the data previously collected in the Infant Feeding Survey 2010 (now discontinued).
To implement the recommendations of the Becoming Breastfeeding Friendly (BBF) study.
A UNICEF reportstates that “no other health behaviour has such a broad-spectrum and long-lasting impact on public health. The good foundations and strong emotional bonds provided in the early postnatal period and through breastfeeding can affect a child’s subsequent life chances”.
Evidence has also demonstrated that a child from a low-income background who is breastfed is likely to have better health outcomes than a child from a more affluent background who is formula-fed. Breastfeeding provides one solution to the long-standing problem of health inequality.
Research into the extent of the burden of disease associated with low breastfeeding rates is hampered by data collection methods. This can be addressed by investment in good quality research.
2. Borra C, Iacovou M, Sevilla A (2015) Maternal Child Health Journal (4): 897-907. New evidence on breastfeeding and postpartum depression: the importance of understanding women’s intentions.
3. Brown, A, Rance J, Bennett, P (2015) Understanding the relationship between breastfeeding and postnatal depression: the role of pain and physical difficulties. Journal of Advanced Nursing72 (2): 273-282
10. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2012) Improved access to peersupport NICE, London
11. Rollins N, Bhandari N, Hajeebhoy N, et al (2016) Why invest, and what it will take to improve breastfeeding practices? The Lancet387 491-504
12. Wilson AC, Forsyth JS, Greene SA, Irvine L, Hau C, Howie PW. 1998 Relation of infant diet to childhood health: seven year follow up of cohort of children in Dundee infant feeding study. BMJ. Jan 3;316(7124):21-5.
It had been announced at the Baby Friendly conference in 2018 that learning outcomes and resources were being produced.
The WBTi report in 2016 (see Indicator 5 in Part 1 of the WBTi UK report for the above table, and Indicator 5 in Part 2 for the detailed findings for each UK health profession) showed that for most health professions in the UK, the coverage of infant feeding in pre-registration training was inadequate. In some case only broad standards are given and the individual universities develop their own curricula.
The infant feeding learning outcomes launched by BFI are for a range of newly qualified health professionals so they ‘articulate the minimum knowledge and understanding of infant feeding that it would be reasonable to expect from a health practitioner at the point of qualification’. There are slightly different ones for the following five groups:
maternity support workers/nursery nurses.
For each of these professional groups the learning outcomes are grouped into three broad themes:
The value of human milk and breastfeeding.
Supporting infant feeding.
Infant feeding in context, which includes understanding the importance of the International Code.
They are intended as ‘a stimulus to universities and others to start to consider what should be covered in relevant curricula and training, and then to take action to make that a reality.’
One useful recommendation is that ‘A mapping exercise can help the university to assess how far the topics are already covered and assessed in the curriculum, and to identify and plan for any additions to modules or design alternations needed.’ Plans for the resources ‘include a slide pack to help lecturers deliver the content to students, e-learning for students and assessment examples’.
Specific learning outcomes like these, provided they are taken on board by the training institutions, will surely help to achieve a higher and consistent level of knowledge and skills within and between health professions.
During World Breastfeeding Week #WBW2019, we are hosting a series of guest blogs exploring how the wider team of health professionals and community breastfeeding support can support breastfeeding families. The WBTi Report found numerous gaps in health professional training in infant feeding, and we are delighted to see a terrific range of resources being developed to address this.
There is exciting progress to strengthen breastfeeding education and policy in a hospital setting in the UK, with the launch of a comprehensive website resource for hospital health professionals this week www.hifn.org. Co-chair Ilana Levene tells us more about the Hospital Infant Feeding Network (HIFN).
“HIFN was set up in 2018 and consists of a network of health professionals interested in supporting and facilitating breastfeeding in a hospital setting in the United Kingdom. I’m a paediatric trainee with a special interest in neonatal nutrition and my co-chair Vicky Thomas is a consultant paediatrician with a special interest in complex nutritional difficulties in infancy and childhood. Our steering committee includes a parent, a nurse practitioner, a dietitian and doctors from other specialities such as anaesthetics, endocrinology and emergency medicine. All health professionals and those who have a strong interest in hospital breastfeeding are welcome to become active within HIFN – if you would like to join, please search for the closed Facebook Group “Hospital Infant Feeding Network” and follow us on Twitter @HIFN12. To understand more about HIFN, just dive right into our new website www.hifn.org, launching this week to mark World Breastfeeding Week. It covers our principles and goals, general background issues of infant feeding in the UK and specific topics relevant to health professionals looking after both mothers and children in a hospital setting. If you’re not a hospital health professional, signpost those you know to the website as a source of expert, referenced, practical breastfeeding-friendly knowledge.
Why did we decide to form a new network for hospital health professionals? In 2016, the GP Infant Feeding Network (GPIFN) was set up in order to improve infant feeding support by General Practitioners, and this arena showed that there was a significant appetite and unmet need not only from GPs, but also hospital professionals. A recent survey of paediatric doctors in a large UK hospital found that 30% did not agree that breastfeeding is the most beneficial form of nutrition in the first 6 months of life, and over 50% felt inadequately trained to manage breastfeeding when they encounter it. WBTi has documented the many gaps in undergraduate and postgraduate training (see Indicator 5 in both Part 1 and Pat 2 of the WBTi report) , and sources like the parent-led Hospital Breastfeeding campaign have clearly shown the poor practice families experience on the ground every day as a result. With this pressing need in mind, a group of hospital professionals active in GPIFN decided to form a sister network. From the moment of inception, we have reached out to families, the lay organisations active in the breastfeeding field, and lactation professionals, in order to work in partnership.
Apart from working on our website content, HIFN has achieved major campaigning wins through advocacy with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, who recently announced they will no longer accept any funding from breastmilk substitute manufacturers. This has started to ripple out to other associated organisations such as the British Association of Perinatal Medicine. We re-launched a longstanding campaign related to medication in lactation, alongside GPIFN and the Breastfeeding Network, and with support from the UK Drugs in Lactation Advisory Service, called #dontsaystoplookitup. We provided poster resources for National Breastfeeding Celebration weeks – both of these sets of resources are available for download on the website www.hifn.org/dontsaystop and www.hifn.org/posters.
We look forward to continuing to serve UK families moving forward and welcome you to have a look at the new website and get more health professionals involved.”
Ilana Levene is a paediatric doctor planning to sub-specialise in neonatal medicine and interested in research relating to neonatal nutrition. She lives in Oxford with her husband, an environmental consultant, and two children. She is a trustee of Oxfordshire Breastfeeding Support, a local grassroots network of free weekly breastfeeding drop-ins and online support. She likes cross-stitching and making patchwork quilts.
The theme for World Breastfeeding Week this year is “Empower parents, enable breastfeeding,” which fits the philosophy of our WBTi work very well. The WBTi recommendations have been produced by a Core Group of 18 of the UK’s key government agencies, health professional organisations and charities working in infant and maternal health. The 46 recommendations, across ten areas of policy and programmes, parallel many of the recommendations of previous national breastfeeding initiatives such as the UNICEF Baby Friendly Call to Action, the Becoming Breastfeeding Friendly project (completed in Wales and Scotland so far), and the Breastfeeding Manifesto.
The WBTi assessment and recommendations for action are all about providing the structures, policies and programmes that families need in order to support mothers and infants to be able to breastfeed successfully. It is not a woman’s responsibility on her own, it is the responsibility of ALL of us, across society, to provide the support that mothers and babies need.
Our UK report found many gaps and barriers in ten areas of policy and programmes across the UK:
Lack of national leadership and national strategy on infant feeding, except in Scotland.
Areas where maternity settings still do not meet the minimum UNICEF Baby Friendly standards, in particular in England.
Weak regulations governing marketing by baby milk companies, no regulations governing bottle and teat marketing, and little enforcement of existing provisions.
Lack of provisions to support new mothers to continue breastfeeding when they return to work.
Gaps in health care professional training in infant and young child feeding (See both Part 1 and Part 2 of the WBTi report for full details)
Cuts to peer support and other community breastfeeding support.
No national communications strategy on breastfeeding.
Lack of understanding of current guidance on breastfeeding for HIV+ mothers.
No national guidance on planning for the care of infants and young children in emergencies or disasters.
Poor data collection and monitoring of breastfeeding rates.
Highlights of progress
There are several bright spots, however, and in the two years since the WBTi report and recommendations were published, there have been improvements in several areas
National policy work: Scotland already had strong national policy leadership. Scotland, Wales and England have taken part in the Becoming Breastfeeding Friendly project on scaling up breastfeeding interventions, with a government commitment to act on recommendations.
With the latest NHS England Long Term Plan, all of the UK has now pledged to reach full UNICEF Baby Friendly accreditation in all maternity settings.
Increased awareness of International Code issues in the UK include a relaunch of the UK Baby Feeding Law Group, a coalition of UK organisations working in infant and maternal health, to advocate for implementation of the International Code in UK law.
The Alliance for Maternity Rights has included the protection of flexible breastfeeding/ expressing breaks and suitable facilities in their Action Plan.
Continued cuts to local authority and public health budgets has continued to severely impact community breastfeeding support such as trained peer support. The WBTi team organised a conference on the public health impact of breastfeeding with the Institute for Health Visiting, exploring in particular the UNICEF Baby Friendly community requirements for “basic” health professional BFI training, “additional” local trained support such as peer support groups, and a “specialist” referral pathway at IBCLC level. The BFI, NICE and Public Health England guidance are clearly explained in the “Guide to the Guidance” by Better Breastfeeding. However there is potential for strengthening the commissioning of integrated breastfeeding services, through the increased profile of breastfeeding in England in the NHS Long Term Plan, breastfeeding representation now being included in the NHS England National Maternity Transformation Programme Stakeholder Group, and in Scotland and Wales with renewed national leadership and funding.
Although no national communication strategies on breastfeeding have been developed, the national governments and public health agencies have developed breastfeeding campaigns and have supported national breastfeeding weeks again across all four nations.
Infant feeding in emergencies is still not covered by national guidance or universally in local disaster resilience planning, however a national forum hosted by Alison Thewliss MP, and led by the UK WBTI team and Dr Ruth Stirton from the University of Sussex Law School has kick-started the discussion to improve awareness and standards.
So we are in interesting times – we still face budgetary and cultural challenges, and families still face many barriers.
However change is clearly happening!
Coming up on the WBTi blog for #WBW2019
For World Breastfeeding Week, we are hosting a number of guest blogs detailing some exciting innovations: The launch of the Hospital Infant Feeding Network, with a website and a collection of posters and resources for health professionals working with mothers, infants and young children in hospital.
A new set of educational resources on breastfeeding and medications for pharmacists, from the wonderful Wendy Jones.
And a blog looking at some of the public health issues around breastfeeding support in the community, from Alice Allan IBCLC MPH.
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See Part 1 of WBTis’ Twelve Days of Christmas, covering our Indicators 1-6, here
Day 7 – seven swans a-swimming
Swans evoke an image of serenity, even if they’re paddling hard under the water. Support to make breastfeeding more effective can help mothers be calmer and more serene, even though they’re working hard caring for their child or children.
Indicator 7 is about information. There is plenty available, particularly on the internet, but mothers often need help selecting reliable websites. Resources developed since the WBTi report include a new book by Amy Brown (The Positive Breastfeeding Book), a chatbot available on Facebook and and as an Alexa app from PHE, and more breastfeeding information on the Baby Buddy app.
Indicator 7 also asks whether there is a national communications strategy on infant feeding – while there are strategies in place in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, there is still no communications strategy on infant feeding in England.
In the song, the seven swans represent the seven sacraments, which are Christian rites. There are perhaps seven occasions for a mother when she is in particular need of accurate information about feeding her baby – antenatally, at birth, early days, the challenges when her baby is a few months old, introducing complementary foods, returning to work and stopping breastfeeding.
Day 8 – eight maids a-milking
The maids symbolise beatitudes (blessings) for people considered as unfortunate. Indicator 8 addresses support for HIV+ mothers. There needs to be both appropriate policy and familiarity with the policy by people working with HIV+mothers. In 2016 WHO published revised guidelines recommending that in countries where health services ‘provide and support lifelong anti-retroviral therapy (ART), including adherence counselling, and promote and support breastfeeding among women living with HIV, the duration of breastfeeding should not be restricted.’ In the UK, BHIVA published revised guidelines in 2018. As in its previous guidelines, these still recommend formula feeding for women living with HIV but also explicitly support women who choose to breastfeed, provided they fulfil certain criteria. The new guidelines are more detailed than the previous ones; they encourage openness and respect the importance of breastfeeding for a mother’s own mental health.
If there were more donor milk available, mothers who don’t meet the clinical criteria for breastfeeding outlined by BHIVA could use it and enable their babies to have breastmilk. Then ‘Maids a-milking’ can be thought of as ‘donor mothers expressing’.
Day 9 – nine ladies dancing
Ladies dancing is how the song represents ‘fruit of the Holy Spirit‘ – beneficial attributes of a person or community, such as love, patience, kindness and self-control.
Indicator 9 assesses the extent to which policies and programmes are in place to ensure that infants and young children will be fed appropriately during emergencies. Those acting on behalf of the community in emergencies need to plan ahead to provide care that is beneficial and supports optimal infant feeding.
The WBTi report found that infants and young children had largely been overlooked in emergency planning in the UK. The WBTi team and Ruth Stirton from the University of Sussex Law School organised a well-attended forum at the Houses of Parliament in November 2017 to start raising awareness of the issue, with LCGB holding a study event the following week, and a policy briefing is due to be published in 2019.
WBTi UK joint coordinator Helen Gray has also presented on the issue at several conferences in the UK and internationally, and contributed a chapter on infant feeding in emergencies for parents in Amy Brown’s The Positive Breastfeeding Book.
The WBTI UK recommendations include extending data collection to include breastfeeding rates at 6 months and one year, by incorporating questions in the existing health visitor contacts.
Day 11 – eleven pipers piping
The pipers symbolise the eleven faithful apostles. There are many people willing to advocate better support for mothers who want to breastfeed, but far more than eleven!
Indicator 11 asks what percentage of babies are breastfed within the first hour following birth. At the time of the report it was 60%. The key action immediately after birth is unhurried, uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact. During skin-to-skin contact in that first ‘magical’ hour the baby shows nine instinctive, distinct and observable stages, which with the mother-baby dyad makes eleven elements. Interrupting skin-to-skin even briefly for routine care disrupts this essential sequence and can impact the baby’s success at reaching the stage of latching on and suckling the first time.
The drummers symbolise the Apostles’ creed, which was an early statement of Christian belief.
Indicator 12 is a measure of the amount of exclusive breastfeeding that happens in a country among babies up to 6 months old. The report had to use 2010 data as these were the most recent; the data gave 17%, meaning the total amount of breastfeeding was the same as if 17% of babies were exclusively breastfed to 6 months and the other 83% totally formula-fed.
There is enough evidence for the better outcomes if infants are exclusively breastfed to 6 months for WHO to recommend it since 2003, yet there seems a lot of doubt in UK society about the value of doing so. Somehow the evidence hasn’t become belief for many people.
Just as a partridge can find support and protection in the branches of a pear tree, each breastfeeding dyad needs a society that provides a supportive structure; to achieve this needs coordination at national level through having a national policy, a strategic plan and effective implementation of that plan (WBTi Indicator 1).
Jeremy Hunt, when Secretary of State for Health, declared that
“The government is implementing the vision set out in the WBTi UK report. The Maternity Transformation Programme seeks to achieve the vision set out in the report by bringing together a wide range of organisations to work in nine areas… this includes promoting the benefits of breastfeeding by
Providing national leadership for breastfeeding celebration week;
Publishing breastfeeding initiation data;
Publishing breastfeeding profiles; and
Improving the quality of data on breastfeeding prevalence at 6-8 weeks after birth.”
A national assessment of UK breastfeeding policies and programmes, “Becoming Breastfeeding Friendly,” has now begun across England, Scotland, and Wales, led by the national governments and public health agencies and the University of Kent. Importantly, this initiative requires government commitment to implementing the resulting recommendations.
Another positive development since the WBTi report in 2016 is that in April 2018 Public Health England created a one-year Midwifery Adviser post for a seconded health professional whose responsibilities include breastfeeding, funded by the National Maternity Transformation Programme.
Day 2 – two turtle doves
This fits very well with Indicator 2 as it assesses the extent to which maternity-related services are Baby-Friendly accredited and the standards support loving relationships. Since the WBTi report, percentages of UK accreditations have increased as follows (2016 figure in brackets):
maternity services 62% (58%)
health visiting services 67% (62%)
universities: 43% (36%) midwifery and 17% (15%) of health visiting courses
childrens’ centres 16 (0)
neonatal units 6 (0)
Births taking place in fully accredited hospitals:
The WBTi recommendations call for “implementation and maintenance of Baby Friendly standards in all healthcare settings” in England and Wales. New maternity plans in December 2018 from the Department for Health and Social Care include “asking all maternity services to deliver an accredited, evidence-based infant feeding programme in 2019 to 2020, such as the UNICEF Baby Friendly initiative.” We would urge the government to extend the expectation of Unicef Baby Friendly accreditation as a minimum in community settings and Health Visiting Services, in neonatal units, and in midwifery and health visitor training programmes.
Day 3 – three French hens
The French hens are believed to symbolise the virtues of faith, hope and charity. Indicator 3 assesses the extent of implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent WHA resolutions. There is faith, that incorporating the Code and resolutions in a country’s laws improves protection for all babies from commercial interests, as the experiences of individual countries like Brazil shows. There is hope that the Code and Resolutions will one day be implemented in UK law. Charity includes helping the vulnerable, such as babies.
Relatively recent changes include the World Health Assembly passing resolution 69.9 in May 2016, welcoming the new World Health Organisation 2016 guidance which clarifies that the Code applies to all milks and commercially produced foods marketed as suitable for infants and young children up to 36 months. A new Implementation Manual for this WHO guidance is also available.
In addition, the First Steps Nutrition Trust is now taking on the role of secretariat to the Baby Feeding Law Group (BFLG), a coalition of UK organisations working in maternal and infant health who work to bring UK law into compliance with the International Code. The WBTi UK Steering team is a member of the BFLG.
Day 4 – four calling birds
Indicator 4 assesses the protection and support provided by workplaces for employees who are breastfeeding. Four organisations helping to improve the situation include:
WBTi UK, which made several recommendations in its report, including that tribunal access is available to women in all income brackets.
Gold is associated with precious things, and colostrum is known as “liquid gold.”
Indicator 5 assesses both the extent to which care providers are trained in infant and young child feeding and how supportive health service policies are. There are five professions which work most closely with mothers, infants and young children: midwives, obstetricians, paediatricians, health visitors and GPs. If they value breastfeeding and have the training to support mothers effectively they can serve as a golden chain of support.
The midwifery standards are currently undergoing a thorough review and there will be a consultation in February 2019.
Members of the WBTi team have been supporting the work of revising and updating professional standards, and a working group led by Unicef Baby Friendly has now formed to take this work forward.
Day 6 – six geese a-laying
In the song the geese symbolise the six days of creation.
Indicator 6 covers community-based support. So many mothers stop breastfeeding before they want to that it is really important to create an integrated system of support to avoid mothers falling into gaps between services. Six key aspects are:
Basic support: Health visitors and other health workers trained to a minimum Baby Friendly standard provide basic but universal help with feeding.
Additional: A peer support programme with trained peer supporters provides ongoing social support.
Specialist: For more challenging situations, mothers need to be able to access specialist help, for example from certified lactation consultants and breastfeeding counsellors.
Matt Hancock, UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care since July 2018, launched his prevention vision on 5 November.
His other priorities are to advance health technology and provide better support for the health and social care workforce. He sees prevention as having two aspects. Partly it is about keeping well physically and mentally, to prevent ill health, but also about the environment around people, their lifestyle choices and how existing health conditions are managed. The aims are for the average person to have 5 more years of healthy independent living by 2035, and to reduce the gap between the richest and poorest. At present there is a large discrepancy in spending with £97 billion (public money) spent on treating disease and £8 billion on prevention across the UK!
The proposed actions in the vision are:
“Prioritising investment in primary and community healthcare
Making sure every child has the best start in life (our emphasis)
Supporting local councils to take the lead in improving health locally through innovation, communication and community outreach
Coordinating transport, housing, education, the workplace and the environment – in the grand enterprise to improve our nation’s health
Involving employers, businesses, charities, the voluntary sector and local groups in creating safe, connected and healthy neighbourhoods and workplaces”
It states there is strong evidence that prevention works and recognises that a healthy population is both vital for a strong economy and for reducing pressure on services like the NHS (almost 10% of the national income is spent on healthcare). Average life expectancy is now 81 years, helped by:
advances in healthcare
changing attitudes so there is less stigma with some conditions
improvements in the environment, at home, work and in neighbourhoods
antibiotics and mass vaccination
public health programmes.
However, there are major challenges in the huge discrepancies between areas – ‘A boy born today in the most deprived area of England can expect to live about 19 fewer years in good health and die nine years earlier than a boy born into the least deprived area.’ (p.7)
Improvements will depend both on encouraging individuals to choose healthy lifestyles and manage their own health, and expecting local authorities to take the lead in improving the health of their communities. The challenges of smoking, mental ill health, obesity, high blood pressure and alcolol-related harm are mentioned, along with the benefit of having a more personalised approach to health.
The section on ‘Giving our children the best start in life’ (p.20) mentions healthier pregnancies, improved language acquisition, reducing parental conflict, improving dental health, protecting mental health and schools involvement, but infant feeding is not mentioned at all!
However, in the Parliamentary debate on the vision (Prevention of Ill Health: Government Vision) on 5 November, Alison Thewliss MP made the case for supporting breastfeeding by investing in the Baby Friendly Initiative to bring all maternity and community services up to the minimum standard. Matthew Hancock’s reply sounds positive: ‘The earlier that we can start with this sort of strategy of preventing ill health the better, and there is a lot of merit in a lot of what the hon. Lady said.’
‘Prevention, Protection and Promotion’ at Public Health England
Earlier in the year (March 2018), Professor Viv Bennett, the Chief Public Health Nurse, and Professor Jane Cummings, the Chief Nursing Officer, came together to launch a campaign on the ‘3Ps – Prevention, Protection and Promotion’, which is about actions to improve public health and reduce health inequalities. Breastfeeding is mentioned in the Maternity Transformation Campaign and Better Births and there appears to be increased govenment commitment to the key role breastfeeding plays in improving public health.
Directors of Public Health have a key role
The DHSC paper expects Directors of Public Health to ‘play an important leadership role’ (p.15). As an example, the Annual Report of Croydon’s Director of Public Health, published in mid-November, We are Croydon: Early Experiences Last a Lifetime, focusses this year on the first 1000 days of a child’s life.
It includes three breastfeeding recommendations:
Reset targets for increasing breastfeeding rates at 6 to 8 weeks and 6 months across the Borough and within particular localities
Achieve level 3 of the UNICEF Baby Friendly award
Turn Croydon into a breastfeeding friendly Borough, so women feel comfortable breastfeeding when they are out and about
How can progress on prevention occur unless it starts at the beginning – with infants? Will other Directors come up with similar recommendations?
Make London a ‘Baby-Friendly’ city
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, aims to “make London a ‘Baby-Friendly’ city” in the London Food Strategy. This strategy aims to increase the health of all Londoners from infancy onwards, including supporting and normalising breastfeeding across London Transport and across government buildings and workplaces, and encouraging all London boroughs to become Unicef UK Baby Friendly-accredited in maternity and community services.
The UK government is due to publish a Green Paper on Prevention in 2019 to set out more detailed plans and, together with the NHS Long Term Plan, which is due to be published soon, is relevant to a future with better health for all.
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The gripping film ‘Tigers‘ is based on the true story of former Nestle salesman Syed Aamir Raza, who took on the baby milk industry, with the help of IBFAN, when he realised the tragic impact of his work.
The World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) UK team has arranged a screening of ‘Tigers’ at the Lexi cinema in Kensal Rise on Wednesday 5thDecember at 10.45am, to mark the 2nd anniversary of the WBTi report on the UK.
The Lexi is situated in Kensal Rise, north-west London, and is the UK’s first social enterprise independent boutique digital cinema, donating its profits to charity.
Following the 90 minute screening, there will be an opportunity to discuss issues raised by the film, and a discussion on issues in breastfeeding support in the UK raised by the WBTi report.
The WBTi project brought together nineteen of the main organisations and government agencies working in maternal and infant health, to assess the state of infant feeding policies and programmes the UK, and to collaborate to produce recommendations for action – 46 in all!!
One innovation in the UK report was our inclusion of mothers’ perspectives, and the incredible way that breastfeeding mothers have supported the whole project, through social media, volunteering, and bringing the report and recommendations to the attention of their local commissioners and MPs. The WBTi Steering Group is keen to acknowledge the crucial role of mothers, and we are delighted to dedicate this anniversary event to all of you!
Economic systems, however, do not acknowledge the contribution of unpaid work like caring for a baby. The irony is, that if breastfeeding rates rise and formula sales go down, GDP is lessened. Similarly, an increase in formula sales increases GDP! Australian economist Julie Smith has highlighted this, for example in her article Breastfeeding and the Measurement of Economic Progress.
The First 1000 Days of Life (from conception to the age of two years) are a critical window in a baby’s development. The 1000 Days concept was first widely used by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, and there are currently numerous campaigns building on that theme.*
A focused briefing on the the role of breastfeeding on infant brain growth and emotional development can be found here.
Breastfeeding: cornerstone of the First 1000 Days
Human babies are born extremely immature compared to other mammals; they are completely dependent on their mothers for milk, comfort and warmth.
“A newborn baby has only three demands. They are warmth in the arms of its mother, food from her breasts, and security in the knowledge of her presence. Breastfeeding satisfies all three.” ~ Grantly Dick-Read
Scientific research has continued to underscore the vital role that breastfeeding and breastmilk play in the development of the human infant. See our WBTi blog series for this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, from 31st July – 7th August 2018 for a review of the myriad ways that breastfeeding influences human development.
Breastfeeding: more than just food
This is the title of a series of blogs by Dr Jenny Thomas which focuses on some of the ways that breastfeeding contributes to immune development and more. Beyond physical health and development, however, breastfeeding also plays a key role in the healthy mental and emotional development of the infant. Breastfeeding provides optimal nutrition for the first months and years of life, alongside suitable complementary food after six months, but it also supports the development of the child’s immune system and protects against a number of non-communicable diseases in later life as well.
The impact of breastfeeding on maternal and infant mental health and wellbeing.
Breastfeeding can help strengthen mother and baby’s resilience against adversity, and can protect infants even when their mothers suffer from postnatal depression. It supports optimal brain growth and cognitive development. Unfortunately, if mothers don’t receive the support they need with breastfeeding, this can significantly increase their risk of postnatal depression. A summary of evidence can be found here.
It is essential that policy makers, commissioners, and researchers understand the evidence and importance of breastfeeding, so that women who want to breastfeed get any support they need. The WBTI report outlines major policies and programmes that national infant feeding strategies need to include; other research on the psychological and cultural influences on mothers’ infant feeding decisions will help policy makers to develop sensitive and sound policies and programmes to support all families.
In the end, it will be essential that families themselves are heard, in order to create the support systems that our society needs.
*Unfortunately a number of infant milk and baby food companies have jumped on the “1000 Days” bandwagon too, despite the fact that breastfeeding is the centrepiece of the original 1000 Days concept, and replacing breastmilk with formula or baby food actually removes that fundamental building block from a baby’s development.
Helen Gray MPhil 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 is a founding member of National Maternity Voices. She represents LLLGB on the UK Baby Feeding Law Group, and serves on the La Leche League International special committee on the International Code.