“A lifeline when no one else gives you an answer”

Evaluation of drugs in breastmilk service launched today

10th April 2019

A new report has been launched evaluating the impact of the Breastfeeding Network’s Drugs in Breastmilk Information Service. This service provides evidence based factsheets and one to one support about the risk of taking medications or having medical procedures while breastfeeding to over 10,000 parents and professionals each year.

The Drugs in Breastmilk information service was set up more than 20 years ago by the Breastfeeding Network and has been funded by the charity ever since. It was established in response to reports of many breastfeeding women receiving inconsistent or inaccurate advice from some health professionals when they were prescribed a medication or procedure. This service enables them to access the latest evidence-based information on risk, from an experienced pharmacist.

The research, led by Professor Amy Brown in the Department of Public Health, Policy and Social Sciences at Swansea University, will be presented at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Infant Feeding and Inequalities in Westminster today. It explored the experiences of mothers, health professionals and mother supporters who had used the service.

The evaluation found that the majority of mothers who contacted the service were enquiring about every day medications and procedures, such as antidepressants or antihistamines, where there is an established evidence base that continuing to breastfeed whilst taking these medications is not harmful. Yet women had been told by their GP or pharmacist that they could not continue breastfeeding whilst taking it. On contacting the service, mothers were given the information that they could continue meaning that many had the confidence and reassurance to continue breastfeeding for longer.

Professor Amy Brown explained ‘The findings are a concern as we do not know how many women did not contact the service and stopped breastfeeding through incorrect advice from medical professionals. This service is clearly plugging a gap in the knowledge of some GPs which should urgently be tackled by considering how medical professionals are trained not only in the risks of medications and breastfeeding but also in the value of breastfeeding for many mothers. Mothers highly valued the information they were given by the service as it enabled them to continue breastfeeding and take the treatment they needed. But they also particularly valued the support and reassurance given by the service around making any decision. Mothers described how before contacting the service they often felt dismissed and that their desire to breastfeed did not matter, but after contacting the service they felt reassured and listened to for the first time, describing the service as ‘a lifeline’.

Indeed, the evaluation examined how mothers felt before and after contacting the service, highlighting a highly significant improvement in maternal wellbeing, Mothers reported they felt more informed, confident, reassured, supported and listened to after contacting the service, even if they were given the advice that they couldn’t breastfeed whilst taking a prescribed medication.  

Dr Gretel Finch, Research officer for the project noted ‘We expected to see that the service would be rated positively by those who used it but were struck by just how significant the impact was for maternal wellbeing. Even when mothers were told that they could not breastfeed and take a medication they reported feeling listened to and cared for, rather than simply being told they couldn’t breastfeed. Given what we know about the devastating impact not being able to breastfeed can have for maternal mental health, this service is playing a key role in helping alleviate that by providing women with answers and support, rather than a simple ‘no’.

The report found that for many mothers, if they had not received information from the service, they would have made the decision not to take their prescribed medication, rather than stop breastfeeding. GPs often assumed mothers would stop, but in reality, they valued breastfeeding so strongly that they would put their own health at risk in order to continue doing so.

Dr Heather Trickey, Research Fellow at the University of Cardiff School of Social Sciences explained ‘It is clear that breastfeeding women who are given incorrect information when prescribed a medication face a difficult choice. Many stated that they would decide to continue breastfeeding over taking the medication, putting their own health at risk when in fact there was usually evidence that it would not be harmful to continue breastfeeding. This is a common theme for new mothers when it comes to information about caring for their baby. Many are not given accurate information by health professionals about the real risks to them and their baby putting their physical and psychological wellbeing at risk. Women deserve the level of accurate information and support this service brings.’

The evaluation clearly shows the impact the service has and the gap that it is filling. As a result of the report the Breastfeeding Network are calling on the government to ensure that this gap is not left to a charity organisation to fund.

Shereen Fisher, Chief Executive of the Breastfeeding Network, who commissioned the evaluation, said ‘Many of the mothers who contacted the service stated that they were only able to continue to breastfeed because of the support and information they received. The service is vital for women yet we rely on funding from the charity, goodwill and fundraising appeals to provide it. Given the impact of the service upon maternal and infant health and wellbeing we are calling for the Government to reverse cuts to the Public Health Grant and to provide funding to support the continued work and expansion of the service’.

The BfN Drugs in Breastmilk Service can only continue with sufficient funding.  To donate to help keep the Drugs in Breastmilk Information service running, text BFNDIBM to 70085 to donate £3. This costs £3 plus a standard rate message.

Alternatively, you can opt to give any whole amount up to £20 by texting BFNDIBM 5 to donate £5, BDNDIBM 15 to give £15.