15th December 2015
November 2015 – APPG on Infant feeding and Inequalities
What a privilege to be part of the inaugural meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Infant Feeding and Inequalities on 24 November 2015, initiated by Alison Thewlis, MP.
As iHV Fellows, we felt that part of the mission statement “enabling children to achieve their optimum level of health, thereby reducing health inequalities” encapsulates all this APPG hopes to achieve through addressing infant feeding issues.
Many UK organisations involved with infant feeding were represented, and all were clearly passionate about women’s right to breastfeed, a child’s right to receive breast milk and the need to support, protect and promote breastfeeding.
The World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) gave an interesting presentation on the value and prevalence of breastfeeding – showing that the UK has one of the lowest rates in the world, with only a 1% exclusive breastfeeding rate at age 6 months compared with a World Health Organisation (WHO) goal of 50%. This costs the NHS at least £40 million a year in increased health costs for mothers and babies from only six of the many health problems linked to lack of breastfeeding.
Globally, breastfeeding rates have risen only modestly since 1990. However, some countries, where combinations of several actions guided by the “Global Strategy on infant and young child feeding” have been implemented, have seen marked increases, underlining the need for the political agenda to be firmly behind driving infant feeding policy and national legislation. This would include robust national legislation on the Code, maternity protection for working mothers, ensuring breastfeeding is initiated and maintained along Baby Friendly lines, upskilling health staff and ensuring capacity to offer skilled counselling on infant feeding to mothers, ensuring community support groups and well-planned strategies to promote breastfeeding. We need to address ambivalent attitudes towards breastfeeding in the UK work against seeing positive change.
WBTI, a collaborative national partnership of organisations involved in infant feeding, aims to use a monitoring and assessment tool to measure progress in implementing the Global Strategy in the UK, and make evidence-based recommendations. This is particularly pertinent as we have just learned that the National Infant Feeding Survey has been stopped.
We expressed concern that infant feeding should be kept high up on the political agenda, especially in these times of austerity and funding cuts. As health visitors we said we needed assurance that local authorities, now commissioning our services, recognised the value of the universal offer of health visiting in terms of primary prevention. As the only service seeing every new baby and mother regardless of need, we are the best placed professionals to be driving the Baby Friendly Initiative and the Code nationally, in conjunction with other services. This will need the political will and funding to build on the Health Visitor Implementation Plan (HVIP) in conjunction with the Healthy Child Programme.
Going forward we felt it is important to widen the debate to look at starting on solids and artificial feeding, as well as the way in which infant feeding interrelates with the 1001 Critical Days and childhood obesity strategy initiatives.
Government action is crucial to effect positive change. Alison Thewlis challenged us to influence government policy through writing to MPs individually and collectively. Three particular issues were chosen to focus on initially: ensuring infant feeding support; improving Code implementation; and working towards the reinstatement of the infant feeding survey.
Health visiting is at the very centre of this debate and it is important that we are represented.
Debbie Holroyd, FiHV
Practice Educator/Health Visiting, Sutton and Merton Community Services
Rosemary Brown, FiHV
Infant Feeding Coordinator, Whittington Health NHS Trust (Islington)
Carmel Blackie, FiHV
Principal Lecturer PHC/Community, Kingston and St George’s
Kathy Mumby-Croft, FiHV
Health Visitor, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust