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Thinking innovatively in infant feeding services during Covid

3rd August 2021

During World Breastfeeding Week #WBW2021, we are delighted to share a Voices blog by Gail Barker, Health Visitor Professional Lead for Devon Public Health Nursing and Service Development Lead for PHN Exeter & Crediton Public Health Nursing team, as she shares their experiences of their infant feeding services during the pandemic.

Gail Barker, Health Visitor Professional Lead for Devon Public Health Nursing and Service Development Lead for PHN Exeter & Crediton Public Health Nursing team

The Covid pandemic provided health visitors across Britain a real tangible challenge in the delivery of infant feeding support services throughout this period of time.

Universal, targeted and specialist infant feeding services were all impacted across our whole system – meaning that vulnerable children and their parents risked being isolated and unseen, within not only their communities but also within services.

Yet, with Covid came excellent opportunities to embrace the situation and to think innovatively.

In Devon Public Health Nursing, we saw opportunities within infant feeding support to use video teleconferencing to support triage, so that those who most needed face-to-face support could access it safely and in a timely manner.

We also recognised the opportunity to undertake virtual infant feeding learning – reaching both peer supporters and professionals alike – with an aim of delivering joint training to build consistency and relationships through infant feeding support.

We were also able to utilise skill mix in a different way – utilising peer supporters, public health staff nurses, community health workers and health visitors to deliver a range of infant feeding services throughout Covid to our population. These included support at the newbirth contact complemented by being able to offer covid-safe group latch and attach support to address the most common challenge of breastfeeding (this being a poor latch), as well as more specialised services for parents with complex feeding challenges.

We were able to apply for a grant from The National Lottery to support Devon Public Health Nursing to develop our breastfeeding peer support networks as an integral part of infant feeding support, through developing a new and exciting role of peer support coordinator.

As a result of implementing these innovative changes over this challenging time, our breastmilk rate at 6-8 weeks has remained the same at 56% – which is no change from the pre-Covid rates – and parents gave us some great feedback:

My health visitor has been amazing. So supportive and very thorough. We wouldn’t still be breastfeeding without the support of the health visitor and feeding clinic.

Via video call was much better than I had anticipated. A great way to have access to other specialists not in my area.

So helpful, very grateful for this service. I have now become confident and stopped wanting to give up breastfeeding.

The speed in which they got me an appointment was amazing.

When it is really challenging, it is clear that it is even more important for health visitors to explain the need clearly with evidence, to think creatively and to share, not only a wider vision, but also a wider aim to support families – through a skill-mixed blended model that encourages not only professional support but also peer support as an integral ingredient – all led by Health Visitors and the Healthy Child programme.

Gail Barker, Health Visitor Professional Lead for Devon Public Health Nursing and Service Development Lead for PHN Exeter & Crediton Public Health Nursing team