This week (1 – 7 August) marks World Breastfeeding Week.
The theme this year is about how breastfeeding is a key element in getting us to think about how to value our wellbeing from the start of life, how to respect each other and care for the world we share.
As part of this week’s celebrations, Swansea University has added its signature to a joint statement released by the Unicef Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI), along with a variety of organisations that seek to support and promote breastfeeding. The statement is part of the BFI’s Call to action, which seeks to change the conversation around how breastfeeding is perceived and promoted.
Dr Amy Brown, Associate Professor and Programme Director for the MSc in Child Public Health who led Swansea University’s involvement in the statement said:
‘Increasing our breastfeeding rates in the UK is a strategic and urgent priority. For too long now we have had a situation where although many women want to breastfeed, the numbers stopping in the first few days and weeks because they experience difficulties, encounter negative experiences or cannot get the support they need is too high. Low breastfeeding rates have a negative impact on our population health and economy, but also unfortunately leave many women with feelings of regret, sadness and guilt.
Although we do need to continue to promote and encourage breastfeeding, the way in which we do this needs to change. We need to recognise that infant feeding decisions are not solely a woman’s choice, but rather influenced heavily by the environment in which she tries to feed her baby. Unfortunately the current environment in the UK is not particularly supportive of breastfeeding. Services are being cut, industry continues to flaunt regulations around advertising formula milk and the general public can still be critical of women who breastfeed in public. Our breastfeeding rates have been so low over the past few decades that we have lost our natural knowledge, understanding and acceptance of how breastfeeding works and how to support it. This all has a negative impact on a mother’s ability to breastfeed.
“So, as Baby Friendly has said, we need to change the conversation around how breastfeeding is promoted, considering it a societal rather than an individual mother’s responsibility. We need to target attitudes and behaviour of the wider general public and those who support mothers on a daily basis, such as family and friends. Until we take this public health approach to breastfeeding, we risk not seeing any change in our breastfeeding rates.”
‘In World Breastfeeding Week 2016, we the undersigned call on the UK and all devolved Governments to remove the barriers to breastfeeding and create a supportive, enabling environment for women who want to breastfeed.
The UK has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. Breastfeeding is viewed by many as di cult to achieve and largely unnecessary because formula milk is seen as a close second best.
The subject is highly emotive because so many families have not breastfed, or have experienced the trauma of trying very hard to breastfeed and not succeeding. The pain felt by so many parents at any implication that they have not done the best for their child can close down conversation, as well as leading to accusations that health workers put too much pressure on women to breastfeed. Whilst no parent should have to feel such pain, and well-meaning e orts to promote breastfeeding have at times been insensitive, the UK context has become so fraught that mothers, midwives and doctors who advocate for breastfeeding risk being vilified by the public and in the media.
Yet extensive evidence demonstrates that breastfeeding saves lives, improves life chances and cuts costs in every country of the world.
There needs to be a fundamental shift in policy thinking and public discourse around breastfeeding. It is time to stop laying the blame for a major public health issue in the laps of individual women and acknowledge the collective responsibility of us all. In response to low breastfeeding rates and substantial evidence, now is the time for change.
Together, we urge the removal of practical, emotional and cultural barriers to breastfeeding, and the creation of an enabling environment for all women who want to breastfeed. This World Breastfeeding Week, we support Unicef UK’s Call to Action, calling on the UK and all devolved Governments to promote, protect and support breastfeeding.
IT’S TIME TO CHANGE THE CONVERSATION
You can support the UNICEF Baby Friendly Call to Action by signing the petition here.
To find out more on the societal factors affecting breastfeeding rates in the UK you can preorder a copy of Dr Brown’s forthcoming book ‘Breastfeeding Uncovered: Who really decides how we feed our babies” published by Pinter and Martin
- Monday 1 August 2016 16.12 BST
- Thursday 24 August 2017 09.52 BST
- Mari Hooson