09 Jan

Dr Wendy Jones, The Breastfeeding Network’s pharmacist, awarded MBE in Queen’s New Year’s Honours List

One of the founding members of the Breastfeeding Network (BfN), and our resident Pharmacist for over 20 years, Dr Wendy Jones, has been awarded MBE in Queen’s New Year’s Honours List for 2019.

Wendy set up the BfN drugs in breastmilk information service in 1997 after being asked to update an 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 and has undoubtedly saved lives.”

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 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.”

Wendy said: “I couldn’t be more proud than I am today that I have been awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List 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 [pictured above with Wendy] 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 today. 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.

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 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 single-handedly 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.

 

For more information/press enquiries:
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/

06 Nov

Prevention is better than cure

Shereen Fisher, BfN’s CEO, responds to Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock’s vision for prevention released yesterday, and how it relates to investment in breastfeeding support.

The future of health in the UK is dependent on us all getting really serious about prevention[1]. Currently the NHS spends £1 in every £5 on health problems that are a direct result of our lifestyle such as obesity and poor diet[2]. We are told that not only will prevention help reduce the strain on the NHS but it will also improve all our health.

Getting serious about prevention must include getting serious about community level investment to enable all mothers who choose to breastfeed to do so, given the substantial evidence that links breastfeeding with improved health.

The Lancet[3] series on breastfeeding offers the most comprehensive review of all the evidence on breastfeeding to date and highlights breastfeeding’s role in the UK prevention agenda.

The authors state: “…how important breastfeeding is for all women and children, irrespective of where they live … Appropriate breastfeeding practices prevent child morbidity due to diarrhoea, respiratory infections, and otitis media [ear infections]. Where infectious diseases are common causes of death, breastfeeding provides major protection, but even in high-income populations it lowers mortality from causes such as necrotising enterocolitis and sudden infant death syndrome. It also helps nursing women by preventing breast cancer. Additionally, our review suggests likely effects on overweight and diabetes in breastfed children, and on ovarian cancers and diabetes [Type 2] in mothers.”

Importantly UK women and babies offer policy and health leaders an attractive opportunity. While breastfeeding rates in the UK are the lowest in the world the rates of initiation – women starting to breastfeed – have been increasing for the last 20 years (81%)[4].

Scotland’s infant feeding statistics[5] (November 2018) show signs of positive change – no happy accident but consequence of national leadership, strategic planning, partnership and sustained investment.

Women’s intention to breastfeed offers an important opportunity for health and wellbeing both for babies (next generation) and women themselves. However, individual will has to be met with support that effectively improves a mother’s breastfeeding experience and helps sustain her choice to breastfeed. Peer support can make a big difference here especially as over time it offers the chance for areas to recreate a culture where breastfeeding is familiar.  We also know that choice isn’t made in a vacuum but is heavily influenced by family members, hospital care, health care professional advice and societal views. Patient empowerment is an important theme in the vision of healthcare for the future yet women feel constantly disempowered in their efforts to breastfeed through the lack of support available to them.

With the NHS celebrating a landmark anniversary alongside £20 billion a year in extra cash now announced[6] NHS leaders will be putting forward a 10-year plan that will make crucial decisions about how the service will spend the money.

In the planning no doubt demands will be high, as cancer survival rates, mental health support, health inequalities and an aging population all vie for consideration, how should we use the government’s cash boost to tackle the priorities that matter most to us?

In the debate let’s remember the substantial benefits to health in breastfeeding for mother and baby as well as the sheer economic and environmental sense that breastfeeding makes.

In 2012 UNICEF UK[7] reported that just a moderate increase in breastfeeding rates could save the NHS millions. In 2016 the Lancet[8] series calculated that the overall savings would actually be in the order of billions, not millions, of pounds. Moreover, the measures required to support breastfeeding are relatively inexpensive and soon pay for themselves. Keith Hansen of the World Bank said …

“In sheer, raw bottom-line economic terms, breastfeeding may be the single best investment a country can make.[9]

The potential savings into the billions are important here because we all know that the cash boost being offered by government to the NHS and social care isn’t going to be enough. While the additional £20 billion a year (in five years) has already been welcomed, the Kings Fund has pointed out, that this does not come close to the amount required to improve services after years of underfunding[10]. On social care, the budget announcements will not be able to undo the cuts in services and underfunding of local government that has already occurred. These cuts that have caused losses to breastfeeding support services, many of which are located in areas of low breastfeeding rates and run by volunteers and supported by charities[11].

Knowing how the money works to support breastfeeding is essential and it is currently hard to know this in England. What we do know is that funding for community-led breastfeeding peer support has been cut because it sits within a shrinking public health budget devolved to local authorities. Despite excellent evidence-based commissioning guidance on infant feeding for local authorities[12] breastfeeding support services in communities is entirely optional.

This has led to mothers who choose to breastfeed being unable to access local services and leaves them failed and let down. This is just too precarious a situation for a public health priority as important as breastfeeding that if better funded and supported could serve us well in the prevention of infant mortality, obesity, type 2 diabetes, ovarian and breast cancer ….

If we are going to get serious about prevention in health then there needs to be a clear strategy and leadership for breastfeeding. Government’s role is key here in taking responsibility for building an environment that promotes, protects and supports breastfeeding[13], not just for the next year but for the next 20 years.

This should include at a minimum the following very important steps many of which are recommended by National Institute for Clinical Excellence:

  • Appoint a national multidisciplinary infant feeding board or committee with strong leadership to ensure evidence on infant feeding is understood and enshrined in policy
  • Ensure that Baby Friendly accreditation becomes a minimum requirement for all maternity settings (achieved in Scotland and Northern Ireland) (NICE recommended)
  • Ensure that all mothers regardless of where they live, receive skilled evidence-based breastfeeding support, making this provision a mandatory responsibility by protecting the public health budget that protects health visiting and breastfeeding peer support workers (NICE recommended)
  • Protect all families from aggressive marketing of formula companies by enacting into UK law the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent relevant resolutions (NICE recommended).
  • Require employers to provide breaks to breastfeeding mothers to allow them to breastfeed or express milk at work.

With careful, long term thinking and action the prevention agenda offers great focus to help us plan the health and wellbeing of the UK for the future. The health of women and babies will be stronger still for joined-up planning and provision of quality breastfeeding support. Let us not forget all our responsibilities in supporting breastfeeding and ensuring that its role in the prevention agenda is fully acknowledged.

 

 Footnotes:
[1] https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2018/11/05/matt-hancock-my-vision-for-prevention/

[2] Anita Charlesworth, Chief Economist, The Health Foundation interviewed for Healthy Visions BBC Podcast / https://www.health.org.uk/Running-to-stand-still-why-20-5bn-is-a-lot-but-not-enough

[3] Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect (30 January 2016), Victora, CG et al, The Lancet Volume 387, Issue 10017, 475-490 https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(15)01024-7/fulltext

[4] Infant Feeding Survey 2010 (2012), Fiona McAndrew et al, Health and Social Care Information Centre https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/infant-feeding-survey/infant-feeding-survey-uk-2010

[5] Scottish Government Infant Feeding Statistics 2017/18 http://www.isdscotland.org/Health-Topics/Child-Health/Publications/index.asp#2275

[6] NHS funding: Theresa May unveils £20bn boost https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-44495598 17/06/18

[7] Preventing disease and saving resources: the potential contribution of increasing breastfeeding rates in the UK (October 2012), Renfrew, M et al, Unicef UK https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/about/preventing-disease-and-saving-resources/

[8] Why invest, and what it will take to improve breastfeeding practices/ (30 January 2016), Nigel C Rollins et al, The Lancet Volume 387, No. 10017, 491-504 https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(15)01044-2/fulltext

[9] The Power of Nutrition and the Power of Breastfeeding (2015), Keith Hansen, Breastfeeding Medicine, Volume 10, Number 8

[10] The Kings Fund, NHS Funding: What we know, what we don’t know and what comes next https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/blog/2018/06/nhs-funding-what-we-know

[11] Open Letter on the crisis in UK breastfeeding https://ukbreastfeeding.org/open-letter/

[12] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/infant-feeding-commissioning-services

[13] https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/about/call-to-action/

26 Oct

What Breastfeeding Looks Like

We recently appealed for photographs showing what breastfeeding looks like in your everyday lives. The response has been immense, and the photos are so wonderful and varied, showing breastfeeding anywhere and everywhere…often in some quite comical situations!

Everyone has a small part to play in normalising breastfeeding and removing the stigma that can be attached to something that should be as commonplace as eating a sandwich. This might be by feeding your child in public, or by supporting others who you see feeding, with a kind word or just a smile. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed photos for this project, it is our hope that they will be shared and seen widely and will also do their bit to help make breastfeeding the norm.

Here’s a full round up of all of the photos we received – click on each one to view the full image, and hover to see accompanying captions and comments. Unfortunately we are only a small team and are unable to accept any further submissions for this page or the original Facebook album – however if you’d like to share your image, you can do so by adding it as a comment to the Facebook album.

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This project was originally inspired by this post:
https://www.romper.com/p/what-does-breastfeeding-look-like-these-photos-celebrate-the-diversity-of-experiences-9926018

 

26 Sep

Guest Blog by Sally Etheridge: ‘I just really wanted to breastfeed’ – How stress affects how babies are fed, and how mums feel about it.

Sally Etheridge is an IBCLC who will be giving a presentation at our conference entitled “Breastfeeding Struggles”.  Here she gives some background to the subject and explores how stress can impact on feeding journeys. Come along to the conference on 6th October to hear more – information and tickets here.

As mother to mother breastfeeding supporters, we may often be especially aware of some of the personal challenges she is facing that are affecting how she feels about life, and becoming a mum, and how these might be affecting how breastfeeding is going – and her chances of achieving her goals around feeding her baby. While there has been a shift in understanding around maternal mental health issues, and better support offered to mothers with depression and anxiety, breastfeeding supporters may recognise that many mums face challenges that we can do little or nothing to change. We may recognise too that there are many mothers who never access our groups and who are much less likely to access breastfeeding support. Poorer communities, women from  different cultures and ethnicities, those for whom English is not their first language, women facing all manner of stressful situations that may be outside our experience. Yet as breastfeeding supporters, we want every mum and baby to be able to enjoy a loving relationship, and enjoy breastfeeding, especially those mothers who always expected to breastfeed.

Leicester has high numbers of mothers like this, and Mammas Community Breastfeeding Support Programme works hard to find innovative and low cost ways to support every mum whatever personal challenges she faces. My presentation focuses on a study I carried out, talking to a number of mums who faced high levels of stress, about how this impacted on how they fed their baby – and what helped most.

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

15 Nov

A list of MPs who came to our 20th anniversary reception in Parliament

The infant feeding APPGThank you for inviting your MP to come to our 20th birthday reception in Parliament last night and the Infant Feeding APPG yesterday afternoon. Here is a list of all the MPs who came.

If your MP is on either list, please do thank them for coming along, consider following up with them by inviting them to come along to a drop in group (if you feel it’s appropriate) or meet with them to discuss issues around infant feeding in your area. Having a relationship with your MP really does help in campaigning for better breastfeeding support services.

At our 20th anniversary parliamentary reception the following MPs were there:

  • Alison Thewliss – SNP MP for Glasgow Central
  • David Linden – SNP MP for Glasgow East
  • Sharon Hodgson – Labour MP for Washington and Sunderland West
  • Mohammed Yasin – Labour MP for Bedford
  • Mike Gapes – Labour and Co-operative MP for Ilford South
  • George Hollingberry – Conservative MP for Meon Valley
  • Steve McCabe – Labour MP for Birmingham, Selly Oak
  • Stephen Morgan – Labour MP for Portsmouth South
  • Marion Fellows – SNP MP for Motherwell and Wishaw
  • Eleanor Smith – Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West
  • Bill Grant – Conservative MP for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock

And at the APPG earlier on in the day the following MPs were there:

  • Alison Thewliss – SNP MP for Glasgow Central
  • Bim Afolami – Conservative MP for Hitchen and Harpenden
  • Jon Ashworth – Labour and Co-operative MP for Leicester South
  • Carol Monaghan – SNP MP for Glasgow North West
  • Gavin Newlands – SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North
  • Jim Shannon – DUP MP for Strangford

If you know your MP was there and we have missed them out then do let us know. We have tried to make this list as accurate as possible, but there were times when we were speaking or organising things, and may have missed somebody.

If your MP said they would come but didn’t turn up, it could well be because there was an important Brexit debate going on. It would be great if you could still follow up with them and invite them to meet you/visit your group/find out more etc.

It was very clear yesterday that the MPs who turned up had been invited by their constituents and that was the reason they had chosen to be there. It really works!

You can also ask all your MPs to drop in to the UNICEF Baby Friendly Call to Action event on the 5th December – more details on that here .

Here’s a selection of photos from our day yesterday. Thank you to everyone who made it possible. Here’s to the next 20 years!

08 Nov

Invite your MP to our 20th birthday reception

shereen on stageNext week the Breastfeeding Network is celebrating our 20th anniversary with a parliamentary reception in Westminster. This will be held after an All Party Parliamentary Group meeting on Infant Feeding and Inequalities on Tuesday 14th November. We would like to ask you to invite your MP to these two events, which are an important opportunity for us to campaign for breastfeeding support services in the midst of severe cuts to services this year.

An anniversary is always a time for great pride and celebration, and we’re looking forward to telling MPs about how our charity was founded by a group of empowered women with a desire to improve things for breastfeeding mums like themselves. BfN was set up by a group of breastfeeding peer supporters who, in their experience of supporting families, saw a need for truly independent breastfeeding support, free from commercial funding and influence.

That was 20 years ago, and we still have their founding vision at our core – we provide independent, evidence-based information and support to help build awareness of breastfeeding to individuals and organisations, and to support mums in their choice to breastfeed. The parliamentary reception is a chance to tell MPs about all we’ve achieved over those 20 years:

  • we have established projects in over 17 areas of the UK, with staff and volunteers supporting mums before birth, on hospital wards and at home in communities
  • supported hundreds of thousands of callers to the National Breastfeeding Helpline (with Welsh and Polish options) and Supporterline
  • grown a network of over 1000 trained volunteers
  • offered a unique Drugs in Breastmilk information service for parents and health professionals which has answered tens of thouands of queries

But perhaps more importantly, the APPG and the reception also provide an opportunity to talk to MPs about the devastating cuts to services that breastfeeding support is facing this year. A UNICEF survey of infant feeding leads across England in 2017 revealed that over half of breastfeeding support services had seen cuts. Further research done by Cardiff University found that breastfeeding peer supporters were available in only 56% of NHS regions. The impact of all this is that families aren’t receiving the support they need to continue to breastfeed. 80% of mums who stop breastfeeding in the early days do so before they want to. And of course you will probably have heard that the UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.

We too have been personally affected by these cuts, in 2017 we were told that there was no funding available to continue breastfeeding peer-support in Blackpool, a scheme we have been running with great success for 10 years. Since 2007 Blackpool Star Buddies have helped thousands of parents, babies and families to breastfeed against the odds and it is disappointing that such a high-performing scheme has been forced to close.

The APPG and the reception are a great opportunity for us to influence MPs, to show them just how important breastfeeding support is to families in their constituencies, and to make the case that if we want breastfeeding rates in the UK to rise then we need to adequately resource support services.

MPs need to know how their constituents feel about these issues, and so we are asking you to please write to your MP and ask them to attend the All Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding and Inequalities and The Breastfeeding Network Parliamentary reception. You can find guidance on how to contact your MP, and some sample text you could use to invite them to these events in this Guide for contacting your MP.

 

 

 

04 Oct

Mothering the mother – a vital part of increasing breastfeeding rates 

Amy BrownDr Amy Brown is Associate Professor in Child Public Health at Swansea University. She is also the author of Breastfeeding Uncovered, a book which aims to highlight normal breastfeeding, challenge barriers and call on society to support breastfeeding. She will be the key note speaker at our conference on Saturday, and has written this guest blog for us ahead of her speech.

 

“Mothering the mother is a phrase often heard during pregnancy and birth. Look after the mother, care for her, support her emotional needs … and she will feel more empowered to grow, birth and care for her baby. A phrase (and actions)  that makes so much sense and is seen in many cultures across the world.

But might this form of love and care also be a key part of increasing our breastfeeding rates too? Of course, education, guidance and support directly about breastfeeding are vital parts of ensuring new mothers are knowledgeable and equipped to breastfeed. But if we really want to stand a chance of making this work, we must look outside of breastfeeding too.

Having a baby is hard, especially the first time. It is life changing and can be so overwhelming. Suddenly you have a brand new person to care for who is reliant on you for all their needs. And they communicate this well – after all, if they didn’t they wouldn’t survive. We aren’t baby giraffes who can get up and walk shortly after birth; we are entirely reliant on our caregivers for warmth, protection and food. Our babies need us, and we are hardwired to need to respond to them.

But as normal and natural as it is for babies to want to be kept close, this can understandably often feel exhausting and all consuming for new mothers. Many have gone from having freedom (and lots of sleep) one minute to having a baby who wants to feed often, chat at night and certainly doesn’t want to be put down. It can feel like all they do is hold, soothe and feed on repeat. Many weren’t prepared for it and start to worry that something is wrong. Might feeding him again create bad habits? Am I spoiling him? Is he manipulating me? What is this rod for my back people keep talking about?

But babies aren’t broken. They can’t manipulate. And it’s impossible to spoil them. In fact responding to, caring for and simply loving a baby is one of the best things you can do to ensure your baby grows into a happy, confident and loving adult. But society doesn’t recognize how valued just sitting and feeding your baby should be. Get your life back it shouts! Get back to work! The gym! At least get out of the house… and what about your poor partner? You must keep them happy too! And whilst I mention it … have you seen the dust? Your home isn’t looking like that celebrity new baby spread is it … oh and those nails… how on earth haven’t you managed to fit in a manicure? Priorities…

New mothers don’t need to get their lives back. That old life has gone and a whole new world has begun. But what they do need is support. In many cultures mothers are cared for and looked after for at least 6 weeks after the birth. Their meals are cooked, the housework is done and they are nurtured and supported. It isn’t a coincidence that rates of breastfeeding are low and levels of postnatal depression high.  Meanwhile when I recently googled ‘six weeks rest after the birth’ I got back a series of articles on avoiding heavy exercise.

In Western culture mothers often don’t have that support after the birth. Many live hundreds of miles away from home. Families are smaller and dispersed and many grandmothers will be working. Mothers are now often left to care for their babies alone, which we are simply not designed to do. No wonder the frequent needs of a baby feel overwhelming, especially for breastfeeding mums who might feel they do nothing but feed, day and night. And that’s before the pressure to get back in shape and regain your social life comes into play.

Unfortunately industry has jumped on this vulnerability and recognized a gap in the market for isolated, exhausted mothers looking for a solution (and a good nights sleep).  Despite the fact that research shows that breastfeeding mothers often get more sleep overall, the subtle and not so subtle messages coming out of formula promotion are that it will help your baby sleep (nope) or that someone else can feed the baby (missing the fact that they rarely want to do this at 3am). But these messages are pervasive and you can see why many an exhausted mother considers a bottle at that 3am feed. Unfortunately many make this move, it doesn’t affect sleep and they can feel even worse.

But it’s wider than just messages to move to formula. Baby care books promise to get your baby into a sleep and feeding routine and countless devices are arriving on the market promising hands free feeding or to rock your baby to sleep for you. These products are not the answer. Following a strict routine for feeding is linked to stopping breastfeeding, often due to problems with milk supply, as it interferes with everything we know about the importance of responsive feeding for building a good milk supply.  It’s unsurprising that routines often don’t work and sadly leave many mothers feeling even worse than when they began, even tipping them into postnatal depression.

So what is the solution? Simple. We need to care for our new mothers better. Mother them. Love them. Invest in giving them the time and support they need after the birth and throughout those early months and years. Think wider than breastfeeding and ensure that new mothers are as rested, supported and yes, cherished, as much as possible.

Work with partners and grandmothers where possible to explain why new mothers need to be mothered and what that might look like. And no, it doesn’t look like a bottle, even though that might seem like the perfect solution when your partner or daughter is exhausted and desperate for a break. Do some housework. Cook her a meal. Sit with her. If she’s happy to let you, take the baby for a walk between feeds, perhaps in a sling – but always check first. Separating her from her baby might make her feel anxious.

To really make this work though government must step up and ensure that mothers, babies and families are truly invested in. After all, they are our future and ensuring the best possible start in life reaps rewards for all of us. Mothers (and partners) need and deserve extended well-paid maternity and paternity leave and flexible working on return. Promote the importance of men taking time off and being there for their partner. No one should need to go back to work for financial reasons when they are still nourishing and caring for a baby.

Where family cannot be there, invest in creating networks and support groups for new mothers. Enhance access to doulas and invest in high quality support from professionals throughout pregnancy and after the birth, from professionals who have the time to sit and support. Caring for mothers should be seen as a public health responsibility and not something that simply happens if they are lucky.

Having a baby will always be life changing and exhausting but it needn’t be so overwhelming to the point where breastfeeding feels incompatible. With the right support and investment we can nurture a generation of new families and show them just what a valuable role they play. And with it, create an environment and support network that really supports new mothers to breastfeed. Mother the mother and she has the time, energy and peace of mind to get breastfeeding off to the best possible start.

27 Jun

Feeding baby out and about in the UK?  What’s the fuss?

Fact: Feeding your baby out and about is protected by law. In Scotland breastfeeding is protected by the Breastfeeding etc. (Scotland) Act 2005, which says that it is an offence to stop someone in a public place from feeding their child, if under two, with milk. The legislation allows for fines for preventing breastfeeding in public places.
In England & Wales this protection comes from the Equality Act 2010 (EA 10), which states that it is sex discrimination to treat a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding.
Fact: Few people know the legal position. While the law is more explicit in Scotland, does it offer more protection?  We don’t yet know as the current EA 10 law has not been tested in court. All cases brought have been settled out of the courts. (Hogan Lovells, 2015)
What does this mean for parents breastfeeding out and about in the UK?  This could mean that although the law is protective, it has little cultural influence at a societal or individual level unless it is better understood and adhered to.
Fact: Many women are worried about feeding in public places. They are worried about feeling embarrassed, possible negative reactions from the public and the risk of confrontation.
Fact: Communities in the UK are generally not supportive of breastfeeding (Victora, 2016).
Fact: Worries about feeding in public are real for women and form a serious barrier to starting to breastfeed, or can mean a mum stops breastfeeding before she wants to.
Although infrequent, there have been several high profile cases of women being vilified in public for breastfeeding outside the home. The negative treatment of breastfeeding women in the media affects feeding decisions. One mum recently told me that her reason not to breastfeed was that she was worried about feeding in public; she had since questioned herself and felt guilty about her decision. She became less assertive as she reflected on her experience but I was sorry to hear her apologise for something that was not within her control.
Was her choice not to breastfeed based on freedom or the lack of it?  Who is responsible for that? The law? The media? Society? The influence of an industry that repeatedly and blatantly blurs the line between breastmilk and formula?
Many women tell us they worry that if they do decide to breastfeed they will end up isolated from their friends and family because they don’t feel welcome to breastfeed their baby when they are out and about.
So, you can understand any woman or concerned relative being worried that she might be treated badly, even though we know that breastfeeding happens all the time and largely goes unnoticed. Most women have a positive experience of breastfeeding, but this isn’t seen or shared with others. Only the negative stories make the press. Whether it’s just perception or reality, the worry stops breastfeeding happening.
We need to change the conversation about feeding out and about. This doesn’t mean pitching individual women against each other or suggesting women are more discreet or, indeed, by asking individual women to speak up alone for breastfeeding.
We collectively need to support communities to understand and value breastfeeding so it can be seen as just a normal thing to do. This is only achieved if we can bring it out of the closet or home and into the mainstream in an open and celebrated way. This requires conversations with others outside of the present breastfeeding movement.
We know what works. It is essential that breastfeeding protection and support is embedded in all maternity care and birthing facilities. This must be accompanied by consistent training of medical professionals.
Using a peer support model, through which women support each other, is a proven way for them to develop skills and confidence to rehearse breastfeeding out and about. This has a positive impact on breastfeeding choice and duration (Hoddinott 2006, Blake Stevenson 2016).
Designating places as breastfeeding-friendly is another way a community can act together to declare support for the value of breastfeeding, with the intention of changing local culture one place at a time.  The Breastfeeding Network has developed a scheme with information for parents, families, businesses and organisations to use. It is simple and accessible and can be used in a variety of contexts: single small businesses, retail parks or even airlines! The information is available for anyone who wants to help make places more breastfeeding-friendly by equipping them with information to help change the conversation around breastfeeding. The BfN scheme helps families feel confident breastfeeding out and about, offers communities and businesses a way to show that they welcome and support breastfeeding, and raises awareness about the benefits of and barriers to breastfeeding.
While some might see schemes like this as controversial or as a necessary evil, many women report positively that breastfeeding friendly schemes helped them cross the threshold from home to out and about and allowed them to see and feel that their community would support their decision to breastfeed their baby.
As one mother put it, seeing a breastfeeding friendly scheme in operation by a coffee shop owner made ‘…me feel like I was being held by my community while I was holding my baby…’.

Shereen Fisher, Chief Executive Officer, Breastfeeding Network
Useful resources and references
The National Breastfeeding Helpline (0300 100 0212), offers independent, confidential, mothercentred, non-judgmental breastfeeding support and information from volunteers with experience who trained by The Breastfeeding Network and the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers. Lines are open 9.30am – 9.30pm every single day of the year. Calls to the Helpline cost no more than calls to UK numbers starting 01 or 02 and are part of any inclusive minutes that apply to your mobile provider or call package.
Opinion on Breastfeeding Discrimination for Hogan Lovells International 2015
Hoddinott, P, et al (2006), One-to-One or Group-Based Peer Support for Breastfeeding?

Women’s Perceptions of a Breastfeeding Peer Coaching Intervention, Birth, 33: 139–146. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.0730-7659.2006.00092.x/abstract

Unicef Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding: http://www.unicef.org/newsline/tenstps.htm

Breastfeeding Network: Breastfeeding-Friendly Scheme: https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/bfn-breastfeeding-friendly-scheme/

Evaluation of Breastfeeding Network peer support https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/evaluation/
Victora, Cesar G. et al (2016), Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. The Lancet, Volume 387, Issue 10017, 475 – 490.

For further information contact Shereen Fisher, Chief Executive Officer, @shereen_fisher, ceo@breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk

A version of this blog first appeared on the UNICEF BFI website in August 2016