New research from The Baby Show released this week has revealed some very negative findings around the state of breastfeeding today. 68% of new parents believe the government doesn’t provide enough funding for breastfeeding support and over a third (36%) said that breastfeeding counselling support services just weren’t accessible enough.
In a nation where new mothers are constantly encouraged to breastfeed and the majority want to breastfeed, half have already stopped by eight weeks and by 12 months just 0.5% of babies are still breastfed (Infant Feeding Survey, 2010; Breastfeeding Series in The Lancet, 2016).
So, what should the government be doing to help new mums?
1. Properly funded specialist clinics
The government needs to make sure that the staff that are working in these clinics are truly appropriately trained. Often so-called ‘specialist’ clinics are run by staff who may have a special interest in breastfeeding but have done a very limited amount of specific training. Valuing the skills and knowledge of a certified breastfeeding counsellor or lactation consultant makes a big difference.
2.Implementing the Unicef Baby Friendly Initiative across all areas
The majority of mums say they want to breastfeed their new babies (89% according to the Baby Show survey), however, just one in three (37%) women say they found breastfeeding easy. Having policies and training in place to protect and promote breastfeeding through implementing the Unicef BFI programme, is an evidence-based strategy proven to help. At the moment, only 20% of trusts providing Health Visiting services in England actually have Baby Friendly Initiative Accreditation, which leaves a huge majority of trusts where training is yet to be fully implemented or even started in the first place.
3.Valuing motherhood in the workplace
The government needs to write into law about supporting women who are returning to work – such as providing them a safe and private place to express and store their milk and allowing them to do with without any fear of discrimination. This is a huge incentive to help women get back into the workplace and to challenge the glass ceiling.
4. Removing the Stigma of Breastfeeding in Public
There are often stories in the media about how, yet another mother is made to feel bad for breastfeeding in public or banished to the public toilets, so it may be no surprise that research also found that a whopping 85% of new parents believe there is a real stigma around breastfeeding in public.
There really ought to be a media campaign to positively highlight the fact that women have the right to breastfeed wherever they want and to make people aware that those who ask them to stop or move can be prosecuted. So many people just don’t realise this, and women are constantly asking if they’re allowed to breastfeed here and there, but they shouldn’t feel like that. Wherever women have a legal right to be, they have a legal right to breastfeed. It’s not just mums that need to be made aware of this – it’s the whole public.
5.Fully Implementing the WHO Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes
This code ensures that women receive accurate and timely information about formula and bottle-feeding to enable them to make their own truly informed choices. At present, the code is only partially implemented in the UK and there is a worry that after Brexit things are going to weaken even further.
So, what can be done to normalise breastfeeding?
I believe that the whole message of ‘Breast is Best’ has backfired as it makes people feel defensive and puts breastfeeding up on a pedestal. Whenever something is ‘best’ it implies that it’s something that takes extra effort and isn’t an ‘everyday thing’. If something is ‘best’ then something else gets into our consciousness as ‘the norm’. It is much more common to see babies being bottle-fed than breastfed across the media and out in ‘real-life’ in the UK. Toy dolls come with a plastic bottle for a start! Therefore, anything that promotes breastfeeding as just a normal part of parenting, such as it being more visible in TV shows, films and in magazines, is really helpful.
There’s a lot of celebrity mums like Giovanna Fletcher and Ferne McCann who are really supportive of breastfeeding and visual on Instagram which is fantastic – this gives women’s confidence a boost. Women are constantly told to doubt our bodies – we’re either too fat or too thin and then when a new baby arrives, it’s in our culture not to trust our body but really we should.
I think antenatal classes have a huge responsibility to be more realistic about the struggles that new mums may face. They can often put a big emphasis on the benefits of breastfeeding when actually what women need most, is an interesting picture of the challenges that might come up and what to expect from normal baby behaviour. For instance, knowing about cluster feeds and normal sleep patterns is so reassuring for new parents who can otherwise worry that breastfeeding is going wrong.
I would also suggest that breastfeeding is talked about in nurseries and schools as part of the PSHE (Personal Social and Health Education) curriculum. Over three quarters (77%) of new parents agreed that believe education is needed from a much younger age.
Around 80% of mothers stop breastfeeding before they wanted to and the government has a responsibility to stop giving this lip-service and give it the attention it deserves.