02 Mar

Our dismay at report on marketing practices of formula companies

The Breastfeeding Network was dismayed to read the recent report ‘Don’t Push It’ from Save the Children, highlighting the marketing practices of formula milk companies around the world. The report looks at mainly practices in developing countries such as the Philippines and Myanmar where formula is aggressively marketed at healthcare professionals and families, and the cost of providing formula for a baby can make up a huge proportion of a family’s income. It also looks at the danger of making up formula safely in countries with limited access to sufficient, safe and affordable water and adequate sanitation.

The problem of aggressive marketing tactics is global, and while the report shows that those in developing countries suffer most, this isn’t just an issue in those countries, but also right here in the UK. We know that the families least likely to breastfeed are those living in the most deprived communities, and that the cost of formula is excessively high. Healthy Start vouchers are available, but if families have to use them to buy formula milk, they then can’t be used to buy other, healthy foods that all the family can access. The lack of a breastfeeding culture in the most economically deprived areas of the UK means that children born in those areas are subject to some of the worst health inequalities.

Baby Milk Action produce a report ‘Look at what they’re doing in the UK’ which highlights some of the ways in which marketing and claims of infant feeding products here in the UK cause parents and healthcare professionals to be misled. Conflicting ‘advice’ from commercial sources can cause confusion and anxiety amongst new parents eager to make the best choices for their children.

The Breastfeeding Network works to support all families and aims to target that support particularly in areas that have the lowest breastfeeding rates, which often are also the most economically deprived areas. By providing independent, unbiased, evidence based information for families, they are able to make their own informed choices about how they feed their babies.

We support the recommendations in the Save the Children report but we also urge the Government to consider better regulation and enforcement of current laws in the UK, as well as providing funding for good quality support for all families to ensure optimal health for all mothers and their babies.

Independent, unbiased information on formula milk products is available on the NHS Choices website and from First Steps Nutrition.

For independent, evidence based breastfeeding support and information, call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212.

23 Feb

BFN Statement on the Scottish maternal and infant health survey

baby's feetThe Breastfeeding Network (BfN) welcomes the publication of the Scottish Maternal and Infant Nutrition Survey.  It offers a useful insight into maternal and infant nutritional health in Scotland and this research is desperately needed since the cancellation of the UK-wide Infant Feeding Survey in 2010.

The Scottish survey shows that most women do want to breastfeed their babies, and that most babies receive some breastmilk, but, it also shows that there are big drop off rates, particularly in the first eight weeks.

With more than 20 years of experience supporting families, BfN understands that many women do find breastfeeding challenging, especially in the early days, and this is highlighted in the report. Breastfeeding is a skill that has to be learnt and most mothers and babies usually need a bit of practice to get it to work for them – it is completely normal in our society for women to need support with breastfeeding and our experience tells us that many of the challenges mentioned in the report can be overcome with access to good quality information and support.

The report shows that voluntary peer support for breastfeeding is difficult to access for many families, but that it is wanted (almost a fifth of mums felt having access to voluntary support would have been helpful), and where it is available, it is very helpful.  The report suggests that dedicated peer support is very important to parents, in addition to support offered from healthcare professionals.

Scotland continues to face persistent health inequalities amongst the population and BfN believes that creating an enabling environment to support all families regardless of background or social standing to breastfeed could help reduce this ever-widening gap. The report highlights that babies in more deprived areas are less likely to receive any breastmilk at all (65% of babies in the most deprived areas received any breastmilk vs 86% in the least deprived areas).

Overall, it is encouraging to read that nearly three quarters of babies were receiving some breastmilk at six weeks old and 57% at six months – cautious comparison with the 2010 Infant Feeding Survey suggests that mothers who breastfeed now are doing so for longer than they did in 2010. The high intention rate to breastfeed amongst women is also an important opportunity that requires Scottish Government, working with others, to act responsibly to address the support needs, so those intentions can be fulfilled, and Scottish women and babies can be supported in achieving optimal health.

As a voluntary organisation working in Scotland, this report will help us to target even further the work we do, and we hope that the longer term impact of the report is that all families across Scotland will be equally able to access good quality, evidence based support to enable them to make informed choices about how they feed their babies.

If you would like to read the full results of the survey, you can view them online here

13 Dec

BfN statement on Financial Incentives for Breastfeeding research

A breastfeeding babyBfN statement on the ‘Effects of Financial Incentives for Breastfeeding’ research

The Breastfeeding Network welcomes this new research to explore cash incentives to encourage breastfeeding, targeted in areas where breastfeeding is unlikely to happen.

With such a substantial body of evidence showing the benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and babies, we believe everyone should have the right to make an informed decision about how they feed their baby – and to receive support, if they need it, to make it work for them.  Just because a family may happen to live in an area where there is little or no culture of breastfeeding, it shouldn’t mean they should be overlooked – and this study aimed to test what might make a difference in those areas.

We should remember that the availability of good quality breastfeeding support is lacking in many, if not most communities across the UK and we know that support is what makes the difference for many families on their breastfeeding journeys.  We should also be mindful that if more mothers were to choose to initiate breastfeeding, for whatever reason, there would be an even greater need to provide additional support services for all families.

For latest news about this research study, see the UNICEF Baby Friendly website and this BBC News video and article