05 Aug

A little less conversation, a lot more action…

Shereen Fisher

Shereen Fisher, CEO,
The Breastfeeding Network

Just last week the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) together with the Cabinet Office published the long awaited Green Paper setting out proposals to tackle the causes of preventable ill health in England. It signals a new approach to public health that involves a personalised prevention model. It will mean the government, both local and national, working with the NHS to put prevention at the centre of decision-making.

In November last year, before the NHS Long Term Plan was launched, I wrote a blog that set out the case to explain why support for breastfeeding and wider infant feeding considerations are so relevant to the prevention agenda. Supporting and protecting breastfeeding is not just relevant, it’s essential for realising the NHS plan and bringing about a healthy society. With the UK holding one of the worst records for breastfeeding in the world it’s important that bold and clear action is taken. Does the prevention paper deliver on this?

The results are mixed.

On the plus side the Government’s commitment as part of the NHS long term plan to make all maternity services in England Unicef Baby Friendly accredited is a real win for parents and infant feeding in England (remember Scotland has already achieved this with strong results emerging in their breastfeeding rates). It means mothers and babies of the future will be experiencing maternity services with important cultural and clinical standards where mothers will be supported to feed their baby in a way they choose and loving relationships fostered from the start.

The paper includes an important commitment to an infant feeding survey (IFS). After the cancellation of the IFS in 2015 there has been a dangerous gap in data especially a population level survey which gives a voice for parent experience. The vision to commit to this, although presently undefined, represents an important step forward to help monitor breastfeeding rates and the breastfeeding environment.

The paper is strong on vision for mental health including a commitment to parity of esteem between mental and physical health “not just for how conditions are treated but for how they are prevented.” Specific mention of the crisis of maternal mental health would have been welcome along with the poor maternal treatment of black and ethnic minority women who experience an almost five-fold higher mortality rate compared with white women.

To round up the positives I would also add strong vision on early years emphasising importance of strong foundations, parent-infant relationships, infant feeding and development.

However, for the vision to be more than just paper talk the Government must address the public health budget with local authorities. This is where health visiting programmes and breastfeeding / infant feeding peer support programmes sit in England and cuts and reductions have been a reality impacting on available family support. What will be done about the services lost and the ones currently threatened?

In order to understand how much of the Green paper vision is achievable we have to know what will  be the future of the public health grant and be clear on local governments commitment to realise the plan.

Importantly, the Green paper and its proposals are open for consultation. The closing date for responses is 14 October 2019. The Government is asking us how can we do more to support mothers to breastfeed?

This is such an important question. By knowing what kind of support can be provided to help mothers with breastfeeding, we can help mothers to solve any problems and continue to breastfeed for as long as they want to, wherever they live. We know that stopping breastfeeding early can cause disappointment and distress for women and health problems for themselves and their infants.

The Breastfeeding Network (BfN) have over 20 years of experience supporting women and families. We know that support can come in many forms including giving reassurance, skilled help, information, and the opportunity for women to discuss problems and ask questions as needed – for us it’s about being present when everyone else has gone and you are left holding the baby.

This is what we know helps women with breastfeeding:

  • organised skilled support for mothers
  • trained volunteers, nurses, doctors working as a team to UNICEF UK BFI standards
  • face – to – face contact
  • confidential, evidence-based, independent telephone support from trained peer supporters
  • trained and supervised peer support is effective especially when contact is frequent, pro-active and sustained over several sessions, including the early days with a new baby.

In summary providing women with extra organised support helps them breastfeed their babies for longer. Breastfeeding support is more effective where it is predictable, scheduled, and includes ongoing visits with trained health professionals including midwives, nurses and doctors, or with trained volunteers.

BfN intends to publish its full response. Don’t miss your opportunity to do the same!

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/advancing-our-health-prevention-in-the-2020s/advancing-our-health-prevention-in-the-2020s-consultation-document