Academic highlights the importance of National Breastfeeding Celebration Week

As National Breastfeeding Celebration Week gets underway, Dr Amy Brown, Associate Professor and Programme Director for the MSc Child Public Health from the Department of Public Health, Policy and Social Sciences reflects on why this week is so important.

Dr Amy BrownNational Breastfeeding Celebration Week runs from the 18th – 27th June and across the country individuals and organisations are getting involved in events to raise awareness of the importance of supporting breastfeeding for the health and wellbeing of our babies, mothers and families, now and in the future.

Dr Brown said: “The theme of the National Breastfeeding Celebration week this year is how ‘everyone in local communities can support mothers to breastfeed, whenever and wherever they are’. This message is so important. A recent review of breastfeeding rates showed that the UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. We have very high levels of mothers wanting to breastfeed, and doing so at birth, but finding they struggle in the early days and weeks and end up stopping before they are ready. This can leave them feeling demoralized and guilty, and even increase the risk of postnatal depression.”

Dr Brown believes this year’s theme is so important because breastfeeding is a societal responsibility. There are many mothers wanting to breastfeed but they encounter situations that make it very difficult for them and although public health messages encourage new mums to breastfeed, this can be challenging in a society that is consciously or unconsciously set up to support formula feeding. 

Baby feeding research

Dr Brown said: “We still hear stories of mothers being criticized for breastfeeding in public, or being asked to leave a café or shop for breastfeeding their baby. New mothers still face pressure from the media to ‘get their lives back’, lose weight and keep everyone else happy when they should be being cared for by those around them so that they can spend the time caring for their baby.

“Pressure is still strong from some family members to let them feed the baby a bottle, rather than thinking about how they could help the mother in other ways. Meanwhile formula companies are still being allowed to flaunt advertising rules to try to promote their product to families and professionals.”

Dr Brown acknowledges that some people may ask why supporting breastfeeding is of any interest to them or why it should be promoted. She said: “Breastfeeding is a societal responsibility because the actions of society affect whether a new mum feels confident and secure enough to breastfeed her baby. Breastfeeding protects many babies from becoming ill which in turn saves significant amounts of money for the NHS that could be spent on other things.

“Even if we just raised breastfeeding rates so that just half of mothers were breastfeeding exclusively for just two thirds of the recommended time we would save around £40 million per year and free up over 75,000 GP appointments and prevent 10,000 hospital admissions. Surely that is worth taking the time to think about supporting a breastfeeding mother you know, even if it just through doing no harm.”

Dr Amy Brown is speaking at the Breastfeeding Festival in Manchester this weekend on the topic of her forthcoming book ‘Breastfeeding Uncovered: Who really decides who we feed our babies’ published the autumn by Pinter and Martin , alongside a line-up of international experts in the field of breastfeeding support.