Analysis

Free online resource offers support for breastfeeding women

Nurse’s website is helping to boost the UK’s breastfeeding rates.

    A website created by an NHS infant feeding lead is helping to boost the UK’s breastfeeding rates

    • The UK's breastfeeding rates are among the lowest in the world
    • Health professionals can help women continue breastfeeding for the recommended six months
    • A new website is supplementing one-to-one support for breastfeeding women 

    An NHS infant feeding lead who is passionate about increasing breastfeeding rates has devoted hours of her own time to create a free online education resource, The Breastfeeding Companion, to support breastfeeding mothers.

    Breastfeeding provides many benefits to mother and baby yet breastfeeding rates in the UK are among the lowest in the world.


    The Breastfeeding Companion website

    ‘Strong evidence shows breastfeeding provides all the nutrition a baby needs for the first six months,’ says Public Health England (PHE) chief nurse, Viv Bennett. ‘It helps build a strong emotional bond between a mother and her baby. Breastfeeding lowers a mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer and burns about 500 calories a day. It also lowers the risk of babies getting diarrhoea and respiratory infections.

    34%

    of babies in the UK are receiving breast milk at six months compared with 49% in the US and 71% in Norway

    Source: The Lancet


    Viv Bennett

    ‘However, national figures show that while almost three quarters of mums begin breastfeeding, less than half are doing so by the time their baby is two months old,’ says Ms Bennett. ‘The UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world with many women stopping well before the recommended first six months. Health and care professionals can play an important role in helping new mothers to start breastfeeding and continuing to do so for longer.’

    Increasing parental knowledge

    Jackie Hall is an infant feeding lead and certified lactation consultant at Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust. She works part time at the trust’s Trafford health visiting service, providing one-to-one support and leading weekly breastfeeding drop-in clinics in locations such as a local café. Ms Hall’s role also involves training health visitors, community nurses and volunteer peer supporters. The Breastfeeding Companion website has recently been awarded NHS England’s Information Standard certification.


    Jackie Hall

    ‘My aim with Breastfeeding Companion is to increase parental knowledge and help people over some of the hurdles experienced during breastfeeding that can lead to women giving up,’ says Ms Hall. ‘I have tried to capture the essence of the conversations I have with mothers and the key questions they routinely ask using short videos on the website.

    6 months

    The World Health Organization and Public Health England recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life

    Overcoming common problems

    ‘Breastfeeding is the most natural process, but it is not necessarily easy and it takes time for mother and baby to establish breastfeeding,’ says Ms Hall. ‘There are many hurdles, especially in the early days. Midwifery and health visiting services are stretched and that can mean parents receive patchy support. Mothers who are struggling with breastfeeding may want help, comfort and reassurance. Ideally, a face-to-face consultation would be best, but it is not always possible. I hope Breastfeeding Companion can help to supplement that one-to-one support.’

    Breastfeeding Companion launched in August to coincide with World Breastfeeding Week. Ms Hall has worked with her husband, an IT expert, to create the resource. The site features 85 videos that cover the most common problems. Videos are grouped together according to the baby’s age. Sections include pregnancy, first two weeks, two weeks to three months, three to six months, six to 12 months, 12 months+ and common hurdles.

    ‘As babies get older, the pattern of breastfeeding can change,’ says Ms Hall. ‘If mothers do not know why they are having difficulties, they can quickly lose confidence because they think something is going wrong – when in fact it is just going normally. I see this happening with a lot of the women. Having access day or night to professional advice and reassurance can make such a difference.’

    1.3%

    There has been a slight increase in breastfeeding prevalence at six to eight weeks – from 43.1% in 2015-16 to 44.4% in 2016-17

    Source: Public Health England

    Inspiration

    The idea for the site came from Ms Hall’s husband who suggested she list the most common questions women ask about breastfeeding. From there, the idea of Ms Hall answering the questions on video took shape. Each video is about six minutes long and is filmed in a mini studio in Ms Hall’s home. ‘I use some of the same phrases in the videos that I regularly use when talking to parents,’ she says. As well as helping parents, Ms Hall feels the website is a useful resource for healthcare professionals. Health visiting and infant feeding network colleagues are already using it and finding it helpful. They also promote the resource to their clients.

    ‘Although our primary audience is mothers and families, the resource is useful for healthcare professionals,’ adds Ms Hall. ‘I do a four-hour training session with health visiting teams every month and Breastfeeding Companion covers the same content.’

    Ms Hall has ideas for another 20 videos and plans to introduce the video content in other languages. The website has received hits from around the world. While carrying out a recent home visit, Ms Hall found her client was already aware of Breastfeeding Companion after hearing about it from a friend in Poland. She feels the resource’s social media presence is helping to spread the word.

    Support on breastfeeding for healthcare professionals 

    Start4Life provides information to midwives and health visitors on how they can assist women in making informed choices and help them and their partners to start and continue to breastfeed,’ says Public Health England (PHE) chief nurse Viv Bennett. ‘It also includes work on changing the culture around breastfeeding and creating breastfeeding friendly places. Start4Life also provides parents and parents-to-be with trusted NHS advice on pregnancy and early years, including tips on breastfeeding that health professionals should signpost new mothers to.’

    In 2017, PHE launched an interactive breastfeeding chatbot that can be accessed through Facebook messenger, to provide live breastfeeding advice to new mothers 24 hours a day. It also commissioned a dedicated breastfeeding helpline, provided by the Breastfeeding Network.

    ‘PHE has created an infant feeding toolkit in partnership with Unicef to help with the commissioning of interventions to improve breastfeeding rates in England,’ says Ms Bennett. ‘This encourages local authorities and their partners to provide a comprehensive universal service with access to specialist support when needed. We also provide the Fingertips breastfeeding profile which allows local areas to see how they are performing against a range of indicators – supporting them to plan and review their services and population needs.

    ‘By having services working together to encourage breastfeeding, and by all of us supporting breastfeeding so it becomes a normal part of our culture, we hope that over time it will become easier for mothers everywhere.’

    Financial incentives may increase breastfeeding rates

    New research from the University of Sheffield and the University of Dundee suggests offering new mothers financial incentives may increase breastfeeding rates. New mothers in South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire were involved in a trial, funded by the National Prevention Research Initiative and PHE, which offered shopping vouchers if babies were being breastfed. There was a significant increase in breastfeeding rates in areas where the scheme was offered.

    Principal investigator from the University of Sheffield’s school of health and related research Clare Relton said: ‘Eight out of 10 mothers in the UK who start to breastfeed stop before they really want to. It seems the voucher scheme helped mothers to breastfeed for longer. Mothers reported they felt rewarded for breastfeeding.’

    Anahi Wheeldon, a community midwife based in Sheffield, added: ‘The vouchers lifted the mothers and gave them recognition and acceptance. The scheme has helped to change the culture and attitude towards breastfeeding.’

     

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    About the author

    Julie Penfold is a freelance writer

     

     

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