02 Apr

“A lifeline when no one else gives you an answer”: Evaluation of drugs in breastmilk service launched today

2nd April 2019

A new report is published today 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 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, BFNDIBM 15 to give £15.

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For more information:
Felicity Lambert, BFN Comms Officer felicity.lambert@breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk / 07979872301

www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/detailed-information/drugs-in-breastmilk
www.facebook.com/BfNDrugsinBreastmilkinformation

21 Mar

Press release: The Breastfeeding Network’s Pharmacist, Dr Wendy Jones to receive MBE at Windsor Castle on Friday 22nd March

Wendy Jones MBE, BSc, MSc, PhD, MRPharmS

One of the founding members of the Breastfeeding Network (BfN), and their resident pharmacist for over 20 years, Dr Wendy Jones, will receive an MBE at Windsor Castle this Friday.

Wendy set up the BfN Drugs in Breastmilk information service in 1997 after being asked to update a basic information pack about the safety of drugs in breast milk. Gradually the service grew and now she now leads a small team of volunteers who offer individual support to more than 10,000 families and healthcare professionals each year via email and social media. 

Commenting on the award which Wendy receives for services to mothers and babies, Shereen Fisher, CEO of the Breastfeeding Network, said:

“We are delighted with the news that Wendy is receiving this award in recognition of her work. Wendy is an inspiration to us all.  She has dedicated the last twenty years to supporting mothers and families through the drugs in breastmilk service she founded.  Day in day out, she responds to phone calls, emails and now social media messages from parents and healthcare professionals who need reliable, evidence based information about the safety of medications and treatments while breastfeeding.  The work she does allows parents to make their own informed decisions, undoubtedly saving breastfeeding journeys.”

A soon to be published evaluation of the drugs in breastmilk information service was overwhelmed by responses from mums and healthcare professionals when they were asked for their thoughts on the service. A mum of four said: “Wendy has saved me and my daughters many times over. I can honestly say I would have committed suicide after my second baby was born had it not been for her support to keep taking my meds and to keep breastfeeding.”

A consultant paediatrician in the same evaluation said: “Wendy’s information is presented in a way which is accessible to non-medical mothers to understand, but also written in a way that doctors who know little about breastfeeding will take seriously.”

On hearing about the award, Wendy said: “I couldn’t be more proud that I have been awarded an MBE as Founder of the Breastfeeding Network Drugs in Breastmilk Service for services to Mothers and Babies.  In 1995 when I wrote the first information on drugs in breastmilk I could never in a million years have imagined this happening. I followed my dreams and the opportunities given, massively supported by my family and particularly my husband Mike who gave me the opportunity to leave paid work and develop my passion.

Nothing I can do would be possible if breastfeeding advocates didn’t spread the word that you can breastfeed as normal when you take most medication or there are ways around it. So, this MBE is for all of you too for all the hard work you do in groups, on the helplines, face to face, via social media and just at the school gate or supermarket checkout. You are all amazing.

Thank you everyone for your wonderful comments. I’m treasuring them in my heart and taking inspiration from them to keep challenging and to carry on supporting mums, dads, grandmas, peer supporters and everyone to keep breastfeeding these special precious babies. I’m hoping that this is the beginning of a year when breastfeeding and its support gets the recognition it deserves and just maybe some funding as a public health issue.”

Earlier this year Wendy was also awarded a Points of Light award by the Prime Minister.

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

Wendy’s story

Over the past 40 years, Community Pharmacist Dr Wendy Jones has made a huge impact on the lives of thousands of families across the UK. In this time she has helped people manage issues such as weight loss, cardiovascular disease and smoking cessation alongside her general pharmaceutical duties, but her real impact has been felt by new mothers. Wendy has dedicated her life to researching the effects of medication and medical treatments on breastfeeding mothers and their babies.

In 1997 she was one of the founder members of national charity The Breastfeeding Network, and in 1999 she set up the Drugs in Breastmilk helpline. This telephone helpline was set up in response to the number of questions the charity was receiving from breastfeeding mums about prescribed medications. At that time there was no easily accessible, reliable information for mums who had been told to stop breastfeeding in order to take certain forms of medication. Wendy has singlehandedly filled this gap.

In many cases where a mum is told to stop breastfeeding, there is no evidence to support the need for this. The mum can be left feeling she has no choice but to stop breastfeeding (even if she wants to continue), or she may choose not to take the medication prescribed. The impact of having to make a decision like this can be far reaching for some mums. In a very few cases, evidence shows the mum does need to stop breastfeeding, and then, being able to understand the reasons behind this may help the mum with this process. In most cases, the evidence shows the mum can continue breastfeeding safely and for many, to know this is possible is a huge relief.

Over the years, the service Wendy provides has grown – she now leads a small team of volunteers who offer individual support to more than 10,000 families each year via email and social media.  She is contacted by mums and families, as well as health care professionals.

She has also written more than 50 information sheets about the most common medications breastfeeding mums ask about – these infosheets cover everything from postnatal depression and anxiety to cold and cough remedies, to contraception, hayfever, headlice and norovirus.

She was awarded a PhD in 2000 and has written several books on this topic, as well as speaking at numerous national and international conferences, study days and other events.

She is extremely well known and highly regarded by breastfeeding supporters across the world. Her knowledge, patience, understanding and support has been felt and appreciated by thousands of families.

With her unending, selfless commitment and passion Wendy is an inspiration to many. Her work is so far reaching, it is impossible to measure the difference she has made.

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Notes to editors:

For more information:
Contact Felicity Lambert, BFN Comms Officer
felicity.lambert@breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk / 07979872301

https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/detailed-information/drugs-in-breastmilk
https://www.facebook.com/BfNDrugsinBreastmilkinformation