Three things to do during National Breastfeeding Week

This National Breastfeeding Week 2018, most breastfeeding campaigners are not feeling much like celebrating. The swingeing cuts to breastfeeding support we’ve seen recently have left us angry, but we must not be despondent.

 

Here are three simple things you can do to help the Better Breastfeeding campaign:

  1. SIGN  and SHARE our petition against the cuts
  2. Write to your MP telling them why breastfeeding support is important to you, and asking what the government is doing about it. (There’s a template below to help you write it.)
  3. Respond to this survey telling us about your experience of cuts to breastfeeding support

These three things should only take you a few minutes. If you can only do one thing – make it the MP letter. You don’t need to wax lyrical. Write as much or as little as you like, but do write. (I’ve just written mine using the template below and it took 5 mins). If you manage something more detailed then you can copy and paste it into the short survey (2 mins), and signing and sharing the petition is even quicker (1 min).

Suggestions for MP letter

It’s best to put the letter in your own words, but here are some suggestions for what to include. (The numbers are just there for clarity – obviously don’t include them in your actual letter!)

Dear [Local MP]

  1. I am very concerned about the provision of breastfeeding support in [my constituency] and I want to know what can be done about this.
  2. There have been cuts to breastfeeding support [describe them in your own words]

OR

There is very little practical support for mums who want to breastfeed [describe what’s available]

  1. Whereas in [neighbouring area] there is much more support [describe what’s available if you know]
  2. This has affected me [describe your personal experience]

OR

I’ve seen how this is affecting mums in [my constituency – describe how they’re affected]

  1. I know that the government say that it’s the responsibility of councils to provide breastfeeding support to mothers in their local areas. But I’d like to know what the government is doing to make sure that councils actually deliver this and hold them to account. Please could you ask the minister responsible what they are doing? Please include this paragraph or something similar
  2. This week is supposed to be National Breastfeeding Week but I see very little emphasis on from government on this important public health issue. Mothers in [my constituency] are feeling let down, and our low breastfeeding rates show that babies are missing out too.

Yours sincerely,

[My name
Full address
Postcode
Contact telephone number]
MPs will not respond unless they have these full details to show that you’re their constituent

 

Better Breastfeeding – a new campaign is launched

“The success or failure of breastfeeding should not be seen solely as the responsibility of the woman. Her ability to breastfeed is very much shaped by the support and the environment in which she lives. There is a broader responsibility of governments and society to support women through policies and programmes in the community.”

Dr Nigel Rollins (WHO) in The Lancet

Last January, The Lancet produced its most definitive analysis of breastfeeding to date. It confirmed the importance of breastfeeding – in both rich and poor countries – to the health of babies, mothers and to the economy. It also reported that the UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.

You might imagine that the shock of finding itself at the very bottom of the world table would have prompted some action from our government, but so far there has been stony silence. In the meantime, breastfeeding rates are about to fall even further. Across the whole of the UK, but especially in England, there have been deep cuts to breastfeeding support services in the last two years and these continue apace.

In June, Blackpool Council ended its highly acclaimed and well-liked breastfeeding peer support service. Kent County Council has just announced that it wants to get rid of its breastfeeding service too. They join a long and growing list.

What is breastfeeding support?

Supporting mothers to breastfeed is not the same as telling mothers that breastfeeding is good for them and their babies. Governments do have a legitimate role in promoting healthy behaviours, like exercising, eating fruit and vegetables, avoiding cigarettes and too much alcohol – and encouraging breastfeeding.

But the fact is that most mothers in the UK already want to breastfeed. The last Infant Feeding Survey found that 81% of mothers began breastfeeding – by 8 weeks, half of them had stopped altogether. Of those who did, 80% said that they stopped breastfeeding before they wanted to. With over 700,000 births annually, that means almost a quarter of a million mothers are being let down ever year.

What on earth is going on? What is it in our society that is holding so many women back from reaching their own breastfeeding goals? (By comparison, in Norway, 70% of mothers are still breastfeeding at 6 months.) Broadly speaking, the answer is that we just don’t have a supportive environment for breastfeeding mothers in UK.

This lack of support takes many forms – telling mothers to stop breastfeeding in public or simply making them feel unwelcome when they do. It’s well-meaning family members who urge mothers to “just give some formula”. It’s the seductive advertising that lures us into the belief that infant formula is basically equivalent to breastmilk. It’s those midwives, doctors and health visitors who say “breast is best” but are unable to offer help when breastfeeding difficulties arise. And it’s reducing access to the practical help and emotional support that mothers should be receiving from trained peer supporters, breastfeeding counsellors and lactation consultants.

In many parts of the country, mothers have never had access to good quality peer support and specialist breastfeeding help. But now, even those places with exemplary services are seeing them cut. Breastfeeding peer supporters, breastfeeding counsellors, lactation consultants – these are the very people who are able to help mothers achieve their goals. When breastfeeding is painful, they offer ways to make it comfortable; when mothers don’t produce enough milk, they suggest ways to increase their supply. They also offer reassurance and an empathetic ear when mothers are struggling with normal baby behaviour.

The Better Breastfeeding campaign will be lobbying local and national governments, getting them to  recognise their responsibility to ensure that all mothers have access to high-quality, timely breastfeeding support in their area. We’ll be talking to politicians of all parties, encouraging them to work together to do the right thing for those millions of mothers who are currently being let down.

If we’re going to create an environment in which mothers feel supported to breastfeed, we’re also going to have to change the way we talk about the subject. Right now, we hear the same stories rehashed in different ways. “Breast versus bottle – which is best?” “Breastfeeding in public – what do you think?” “Pressure to breastfeed – were you made to feel guilty?” We need to move on from these tired old subjects that keep us stuck right here with the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.

So, as well as pushing for access to good quality breastfeeding support for all mothers, the Better Breastfeeding campaign will be sparking new conversations about breastfeeding. We’ll be encouraging the media to broaden their horizons and start talking about breastfeeding in a new and better way.

We hope you agree that the Better Breastfeeding campaign is very much needed at this time. You can support our campaign in a number of ways.

  • Add your name to our change.org statement and show you share our mission
  • Sign up at the bottom of the page to receive updates about our campaign
  • Donate to our campaign – we plan to produce high-quality infographics and briefings to get our message across, and these are not cheap to make