Government cuts contribute to UK’s low rate of breastfeeding

The Government is letting parents down by not investing enough money in breastfeeding support services according to new research by The Baby Show.

A survey revealed that 68% of new parents believe the government doesn’t provide enough funding for breastfeeding support services which may go some way to explaining why rates of breastfeeding in the UK are the worst in the world (despite the fact that 89% of new UK parents had every intention of breastfeeding their new arrivals).

The difficulties for many new mums trying to breastfeed is well known. Of those asked, just one in three (37%) said they found it easy. As a result, demand for breastfeeding support is overwhelming – a massive 84% of new mums said they sought assistance.

The most common source of help remains midwives, followed by an NHS lactation consultant or breastfeeding clinic, then a health visitor.  The research found that it’s not the quality of care that needs improvement, rather availability.  Of those new mums surveyed, 74% described the help they received from midwives as good or excellent, 72% rated NHS lactation and breastfeeding clinics as good or excellent while 69% rated their health visitor as so.  

However, over a third(36%) of parents found NHS breastfeeding counselling services not accessible enough while 57% of new parents say they worry that the government is closing down breastfeeding clinics all around the country as a means to cut costs. In fact, half (50%) said the government should be investing in additional NHS breastfeeding clinics, with 49% saying more should be invested in training health visitors and 44% in training midwives.

Vanessa Christie, Lactation Consultant and Breastfeeding Expert at The Baby Show says: “The essential support that high-quality and accessible breastfeeding services provide for new families across the country, have been systematically squeezed and dis-banded in recent months and years. I have worked with thousands of new families at the frontline and know first-hand how quickly and easily problems can spiral when the right support is not available – primarily due to lack of access to both staff with specialist credentials and invaluable mother-to-mother peer support programmes and due to increasing pressure on existing healthcare services.

“Many councils and healthcare trusts claim that they are fully committed to supporting breastfeeding mothers. However, in a bid to be more cost-effective, it is clear from their actions that they do not understand the unquestionable negative impact that giving lip service to breastfeeding services has on the health and wellbeing of mothers and babies. This does not save money! On the contrary, it creates a situation where the demand on other services, such as GPs, A&E departments and mental health services only goes up and breastfeeding rates go down. It is well documented that improving breastfeeding rates in general, has a significant positive long-term financial impact on healthcare and society as a whole.”

The poll also revealed that in these progressive times, there is still some way to go before new mothers can feel completely comfortable breastfeeding. While a huge 93% of new parents believe that breastfeeding mothers should feel free to do so anywhere in public, 85% say that a real stigma around it remains.

The vast majority also agreed that changes were needed to make returning to work easier for breastfeeding mothers; 87% think that workplaces should be required by law to provide breastfeeding breaks to feed or express. Furthermore, over three quarters (77%) of respondents believe education is needed from a much younger age and that children should in fact be taught about breastfeeding at school, to help normalise the practice.

Wing Yan Lee from The Baby Show says: “It’s very encouraging to see that, contrary to popular belief, the overwhelming majority of women we surveyed actually want to breastfeed their babies. However, despite the high demand for support, its worrying to see that councils and healthcare trusts are shutting down, rather than increasing services.  If the UK is to raise breastfeeding rates, more needs to be invested in clinics and training professionals to provide high-quality and accessible support to mothers in those vital early weeks needed to establish feeding. What else is fascinating is the huge stigma that still exists around breastfeeding in public, despite our seemingly progressive times.  Every new parent deserves the right to feed their baby however they want, whenever and wherever they are without feeling stigmatised.”

The Baby Show, with MadeForMums, will be taking place from Friday 2nd until Sunday 4th March at the ExCeL London.  Ticket prices begin at £14.70 on the door and £20 in advance.

Vanessa Christie will be speaking at The Baby Show at 2.45 on Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th March. The team at Young Londonist will be at the event writing about the greatest new products launches and pinning our ear to some of the great talks lined up.