The lack of breastfeeding support for new mothers in the UK has been criticised as “inhumane” by campaigners working for more consistent postnatal support.
“To promote breastfeeding and not be able to support you to do it – that is inhumane,” Emma Pickett, chair of the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, said on a new Dispatches documentary to be aired on Channel 4.
The programme, presented by new mum Kate Quilton, explores why the UK has some of the worst breastfeeding rates in the world, and how government cuts have impacted this in an inconsistent way across the country.
“In my borough I’ve had the gold standard of breastfeeding but friends who live a mile away down the road have nothing,” she told HuffPost UK.
Reiterating that it is not about criticising mums who choose not to breastfeed or can’t but those who really want to and aren’t getting enough support.
“Initiation rates for breastfeeding are around 80% of new mums,” Sue Ashmore from UNICEF said in the documentary. “But then our drop off rates are really quite high and we are down to around half of babies being breastfed by six weeks.”
And by six months – the point at which the NHS recommends you are exclusively breastfeeding until – around 30% are giving any breast milk to their babies and 1% exclusively breastfeeding.
Pickett says the problem is down to government funding and cuts to breastfeeding support groups. “In 2015 the funding for breastfeeding support went out to local areas, so it was no longer centralised and that meant each individual local authority held the purse strings in their area and they could decide if breastfeeding was important,” she said.
“There are areas like where loads of money has gone in to give babies a better start at the same time a bunch of money has been pulled out of breastfeeding, it’s just so disjointed.”
One such mum is Georgina, whose funding was cut to her local breastfeeding service just before she had her baby. “There was a support group actually on my road, it got shut down due to no funding which was a bit of a pain because there’s not anything in my specific area,” she said in the episode.
The next nearest one is a two hour journey, and with a new baby to consider, she says she won’t go “all that way” to access the service.
And Quilton said that her friends who have been left unsupported by state services have ended up paying huge amounts for private lactation consultants while she has been able to access three private home visits for free. “It is totally a postcode lottery,” she said.
Pickett, from Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, said: “One of the reasons it happens is it’s easy to cut services to people who may not be able to shout loudly – new mums are at a very vulnerable time in their lives, babies aren’t very good at holding placards.”
Ashmore also believes that the UK has a “bottle feeding culture” and the answer is too quickly to give your baby a bottle if you’re having problems.
The World Health Organisation agrees with NHS recommendations that you should exclusively breastfeed for six months. “Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to six months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.”
What breastfeeding support should women get?
The NHS says that for one-to-one support, the best people to help are your midwife, your health visitor or a local trained peer supporter. “They can give you lots of information and support just when you need it.”
“If you need to speak to someone between health visitor appointments, you should find their contact details in your baby’s red book. You could also go to your local drop-in baby clinic to see a health visitor face to face.”
If you want more general support, from non-medical professionals you can try breastfeeding cafes, and drop-in centres: “These are all great places to make new friends and share the ups and downs of looking after a new baby. There’s no need to make an appointment – just go along when you can.”
You can search for a centre local to where you live on the NHS website.
You can also call any of the numbers below for someone to talk to or support:
National Breastfeeding Helpline – 0300 100 0212
Association of Breastfeeding Mothers – 0300 330 5453
La Leche League – 0345 120 2918
National Childbirth Trust (NCT) – 0300 330 0700
Dispatches: Breastfeeding Uncovered will air on Channel 4 at 8pm on Monday 30 July.