UK breastfeeding rates at 12 months are the lowest in the world. What has largely been ignored in media and political discourse about women’s choice is that UK women are choosing to breastfeed but many are not adequately supported to do so.
In January 2016 The Lancet published the strongest evidence to date that stopping breastfeeding early has significant health consequences – including for developed countries with sophisticated healthcare systems.
In the current climate of austerity, however, existing breastfeeding support services are under threat.
The UK Department of Health and World Health Organisation recommend 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding for all babies, followed by continued breastfeeding for a minimum of 2 years (WHO) or as long as desired (UK DoH).
At Q1 2015<6, 81.3% of mothers who gave birth in Oxfordshire CCG area initiated breastfeeding. By 6<8 weeks, 61.3% of babies were still receiving breastmilk, just 46.1% exclusively.
Most women who cease breastfeeding in the early weeks do so reluctantly, because they feel they have no choice. Informing women about the important of breastfeeding is not enough. Recent research has demonstrated that giving information about breastfeeding without sufficient support to do it increases mothers’ risk of postnatal depression.
Mothers need accessible, timely, skilled, evidence-based support to enable them to breastfeed. Oxfordshire’s early intervention service cuts, in particular the closure of Children’s Centres, will have a significant impact on its availability. This is likely to decrease breastfeeding rates, hamper the implementation of the Baby Friendly Initiative, and result in both long and short-term health and economic costs.
Extract with kind permission of Oxford Breastfeeding Alliance
Our vital breastfeeding clinic, in existence since 2007, is under threat. Cambridge Breastfeeding Alliance provides qualified, skilled help to new mums across the county and beyond. The Breastfeeding Counsellors and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants who staff the clinic have been funded by the Children’s Centre until recently, when funding cuts kicked in.
I have just seen that this is happening and am absolutely devastated. Are they mad? If they want to save money on healthcare in the future they need to invest in the early stages. It was at one of these sessions that my fifth baby’s tongue tie was detected and – thankfully – as a result, dealt with. Without that support I would have been in trouble – and I like to think I am pretty experienced. Please please don’t take this away. A vital resource. Please. Lorna Thompson
The clinic forms an integral part of the breastfeeding support system in Cambridge, working alongside the 2 NHS-funded groups providing 100s of mothers each year with emergency support to establish breastfeeding, overcome difficulties and learn to feed their babies.
The staff are qualified breastfeeding supporters – La Leche League Leaders, Breastfeeding Counsellors and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants. We are not employed by the NHS. We are not financially independent. We cannot afford to volunteer to run the group. While we all give hours of our time each month giving voluntary support to new mothers, the success of Homerton is built on the commitment and continuity that funding provides. It means we can afford to put all our other commitments second, behind the needs of the new parents of Cambridgeshire.
Our group risks closure or, at the very least, inconsistent staffing levels, because the funding for all Children’s Centres have been cut. The County Council has taken away the financial support for our clinic without consultation and without any idea of the collateral damage this will cause.
Homerton Breastfeeding Drop-in does not just serve the residents of that ward; we support parents across the county and beyond. We are not a small, insignificant group that won’t be missed. We can only assume that the county council were unaware of our group, or the fact that our closure would impact the whole county.
Both parents and NHS staff are calling for the service to be protected and new funding to be found.
We are forming a Charitable Incorporated Organisation and are raising funds. We are also seeking alternative sources of funding and calling for the County Council to find funding to ensure the service can continue. Hundreds of mothers have already expressed dismay at the threatened closure and many are calling on their County Councillors and MPs to save the service. See our Mums’ Voices page for some of their comments and our Support Us page if you would like to help or donate.
The support of this group has been crucial to me personally to help me carry on with breastfeeding. In terms of continuing council funding for this group, as well as the numerous positive health benefits of breastfeeding, there is also an environmental cost of formula feeding, which directly costs the council money in terms of increased landfill and recycling charges from formula bottles and cartons. By helping mothers to continue with breastfeeding, the council will save money by reducing these costs. I feel very strongly that funding should continue for this group. Mareike Gentsch