PARENTS
01/03/2018 00:02 GMT

PHE Has Turned Amazon's Alexa Into A 'Breastfeeding Friend' For New Mums

'Alexa, how do I ensure my baby is latched correctly?'

New mums with questions about breastfeeding now have a new ‘friend’ they can turn to for support at any time of the day-or-night - Amazon’s Alexa.

Public Health England (PHE) has launched a ‘Breastfeeding Friend’ service on the digital device, in an attempt to support mums who may be struggling, as breastfeeding rates in England are currently among the lowest in the world. Almost three-quarters of women start breastfeeding when their child is born, however by 6-8 weeks this drops to 44%.

Mums can ask Alexa questions regarding breastfeeding and the answers will be provided tailored to the age of their baby.

Dr Emily MacDonagh, junior doctor and the wife of Peter Andre, is supporting the Start4Life campaign. “Breastfeeding is something I’m really passionate about because, as a doctor I know how beneficial breast milk is for babies and their development. But, as a mum who has breastfed two children, I know that it isn’t always plain sailing and there can be hiccups along the way,” she said.

Mark Cuthbert via Getty Images
Emily MacDonagh with her husband Peter Andre.

“I had an easy experience breastfeeding my first baby, but with the second, I had some difficulties and had to seek extra support,” MacDonagh continued. “The digital tools developed by Start4Life are NHS-approved and complement support from healthcare professionals, helping to guide mums through their first weeks of breastfeeding.”

The support service has been backed by Dr Cheryll Adams, executive director of the the Institute of Health Visiting. “Whether a mother manages to establish breastfeeding is largely determinant on the support she receives in the first few days after birth,” she said. “However, with such short hospital stays, professional support is not as widely available as it once was. To have this back up, which can be accessed from anywhere, will be hugely helpful and we expect health visitors to want to promote the service.”

The service, which you can enable for free at the Amazon Alexa Skill Store or access via Facebook Messanger, is intended to complement support and advice from health care professionals and breastfeeding specialists.  

However Vanessa Christie, Lactation Consultant at The Baby Show has raised concerns about a digital service being prioritised over personal support.

“It’s really positive to see the government supporting new interventions to help breastfeeding mothers.  However, I feel very strongly that computerised algorithms should never be prioritised over the support from an actual human,” she said. “Especially since every scenario of breastfeeding with a mum and baby is very unique and requires individual support.  It would also be hugely beneficial to extend funding for the national breastfeeding helpline so that it was available further into the night and over the weekend.”

A survey by The Baby Show found that 36% of new or expectant parents felt that NHS breastfeeding counselling services weren’t accessible enough. The research found that it’s not the quality of care that needs improvement, rather availability; as 74% described the help they received from midwives as good or excellent, 72% rated NHS lactation and breastfeeding clinics as good or excellent and 69% rated their health visitor as so.

Viv Bennett, chief nurse at PHE said the ‘Breastfeeding Friend’ service would help ensure women are not embarrassed and receive timely help. As a survey by PHE found that a third of mothers (31%) felt embarrassed about asking for help with breastfeeding from healthcare professionals.

Two thirds (64%) felt that access to 24/7 breastfeeding support such as a phoneline, website or chatbot would make mothers more likely to have a positive experience of breastfeeding, as well as more likely to decide to try breastfeeding (59%) and breastfeed for longer (58%).

“Health professionals do an excellent job of caring for new mothers, but they cannot be available 24/7, which is where our Breastfeeding Friend is designed to help,” said Bennett. 

In addition to the Breastfeeding Friend the Start4Life website has other resources for breastfeeding mothers, as well as a national helpline (0300 100 0212) provided by the Breastfeeding Network, daily from 9.30am to 9.30pm.