23rd March 2016
I attended the second meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Inequalities on Infant feeding on 15 March 2016 with two other Fellows (Rosemary Brown and Carmel Blackie) at Westminster.
We had an interesting presentation from The Breastfeeding Network on “Barriers to Breastfeeding”. Bearing in mind that our breastfeeding rates in the UK are amongst the lowest in the world including OECD countries – rates vary regionally from 18% in Knowsley to 83% in City and Hackney at 6-8 weeks, with a trend of younger women and those from routine and manual occupations being less likely to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding remains a major determinant of public health and optimum outcomes for babies and children with a lasting impact into adulthood. There are implications at a macro-economic level in terms of demand on acute services, reduced gastroenteritis in breastfed babies (McConnachie, 2014) and reduced postnatal depression rates in breastfeeding mothers (Borra, 2015) with a significant increase in postnatal depression in mothers who wanted to breastfeed but could not (Borra, 2015. Brown, 2016).
14% of women stop breastfeeding by the end of the first week, four out of five women stop before they are ready (Mc Andrew, 2012).
The barriers to breastfeeding were discussed during and after the presentation, these included:
- Low knowledge base on breastfeeding.
- Low level of confidence in the ability to breastfeed, mothers may be the first in their family to breastfeed and not have seen other mothers feeding in the community.
- Poor support in hospital following delivery, impacted by low midwifery staffing levels.
- Poor support in the community, lack of Infant Feeding co-ordinators nationally, health visitors over stretched and unable to give enough support despite having the skills to do so.
- Lack of public places to breastfeed.
- Poor access to breastfeeding facilities at work, poor support at work.
- Mothers’ confidence is undermined by baby milk formula advertising (including in The Community Practitioner magazine and at professional conferences).
I made the point that, although the debate had mainly focused on breastfeeding, the fact that mothers felt disempowered by the baby milk industry which initially led to them make inappropriate choices when weaning their babies later. They may choose to do this too early or use proprietary brands which in many cases contain too much sugar contributing to the upward trend in obesity we now see in a large proportion of children.
During the debate it was apparent that those in attendance were passionate and committed to breastfeeding and that this needs to be conveyed to as many MPs as possible so we are not preaching to the converted!
It is important that the energy generated from this meeting is channelled into positive action and that we engage as much support as possible on two fronts. Firstly, to ensure that breastfeeding is the norm and not the exception. Secondly, as health visitors to ensure that we can use this APPG to continue to keep our profession in the spotlight as the only universal service able to access mothers and babies at this crucial time when the decision to breastfeed is made and to offer long term support to sustain this decision in the first two years of life.
Next meeting 17 May 2016.
Debbie Holroyd FiHV.