23/03/2017 00:01 GMT | Updated 23/03/2017 00:01 GMT

Fewer Than Half Of Babies In England Are Breastfed Past Two Months, New Tool Hopes To Change That

'Proper support is crucial at this time.'

Fewer than half of babies in England are breastfed for longer than two months, according to data from Public Health England (PHE) and the NHS. 

Almost three quarters of mothers start breastfeeding when their baby is born (73%), but this drops to 44% still breastfeeding six to eight weeks later, data has shown. 

In order to try an increase this figure, NHS’ Start4Life programme has launched a Breastfeeding Friend (BFF) ChatBot to provide day and night support for new mums

“Breastfeeding, while natural, is something that all mums and their babies learn by doing,” said Viv Bennett, chief nurse at PHE.

“Mums tell us that after the first few weeks, breastfeeding becomes easier so proper support is crucial at this time, which is where our BFF is designed to help.” 

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A small survey of 500 mothers of young children commissioned by PHE showed that more than half were concerned that breastfeeding could mean they wouldn’t be able to tell if their baby was getting too much or not enough milk.

A similar proportion of mums surveyed thought that people might assume they need a special diet to breastfeed. 

Nearly three in 10 worried that breastfeeding could mean their baby might not be getting the right nutrients.

High-profile figures who promote breastfeeding had a positive influence on the mums polled. Household names like Sam Faiers, Fearne Cotton and Blake Lively, who have championed breastfeeding on social media, inspired 49% of mums to breastfeed themselves. 

Professor Mary Fewtrell, nutrition lead at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said it’s “concerning” that many women don’t continue breastfeeding after the first few weeks. She said the UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.

“To improve the situation, mothers need to feel confident in their ability to breastfeed and feel comfortable about breastfeeding in public,” she said.

“This requires support from family, friends, professionals, the workplace and society at large so that breastfeeding is regarded as normal and natural.

“Achieving this will require a multi-pronged approach, including the provision of high quality, accessible breastfeeding support. We welcome the new interactive Breastfeeding Friend (BFF) ChatBot being launched by PHE as one such measure.” 

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The BFF is accessed through Facebook messenger and provides personal support for mothers at any time of the day or night, to help make breastfeeding a better experience.

It will also dispel breastfeeding myths and help alleviate concerns mums have.

The tool has been praised by MPs and the Royal College of Midwives

Minister for public health and innovation Nicola Blackwood said: “Research shows that breastfeeding gives babies the best start in life but I know it’s not always easy for new mums to start.

“Start4Life’s new interactive Facebook messenger ChatBot is a quick and easy way for mums to get help and information, and compliments the ongoing support from their midwifery team and health visitor.” 

Jacque Gerrard, director for England at Royal College of Midwives said: “Getting infant feeding right will help give newborn babies the best possible start in life. Women need all the support they can get, particularly first-time mothers. It is important that midwives and maternity support workers continue to promote breastfeeding.

“Any initiative that goes towards helping mothers start and sustain breastfeeding for longer is positive as we know the health benefits from being breastfed last a lifetime.”

To access the Breastfeeding BFF, simply open Facebook Messenger and search Start4Life BreastFeeding Friend or visit m.me/Start4LifeBreastFeedingFriend to get started.

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