End cuts to breastfeeding support - stop letting down millions of mothers
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Last January, The Lancet confirmed the importance of breastfeeding – in both rich and poor countries – to the health of babies and mothers and to the economy. It also reported that the UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.
But the government has done nothing to reverse this. Meanwhile, 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 are continuing apace.
Recent examples include Blackpool Council, which ended its highly acclaimed and well-liked breastfeeding peer support service last June, and Kent County Council, which scaled down its exemplary breastfeeding service this June. They join a long and growing list.
The author of The Lancet report, Dr Nigel Rollins of the World Health Organisation, wrote:
“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.”
Supporting mothers doesn’t mean simply telling them that breastfeeding is good for them and their babies. 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, 80% of mothers said that they stopped breastfeeding before they wanted to. With around 700,000 births annually in the UK, that means almost a quarter of a million mothers are being let down, every year.
We, the undersigned, call on the UK government and the governments of the devolved nations to:
- ensure that all mothers have access to high-quality, timely breastfeeding support
- provide the funds to local councils and health boards to deliver these services
Midwives, health visitors and doctors cannot offer this support alone. Integrated breastfeeding support services must be set up in every area (as per NICE and PHE guidelines), making efficient use of the skills and time of peer supporters, breastfeeding counsellors and lactation consultants.
Improved breastfeeding rates would save the NHS millions and would add billions to our economy, but breastfeeding support is inexpensive. It’s estimated that an investment of around £30 million would be sufficient to ensure access to high-quality, timely breastfeeding support for all mothers who want to breastfeed in the UK.
We, the undersigned, also support the Better Breastfeeding campaign to help bring about an environment in which all mothers in the UK who want to breastfeed are supported to do so.
Please consider donating to our campaign to help create high-quality briefings to get our message across to commissioners and policymakers.
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Open letter from Royal Colleges, health professionals and breastfeeding organisations
(Photo above by Paul Carter/wdiip.co.uk)
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