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Breastfeeding Week – Support for Breastfeeding Mothers

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This week is Celebration Week for Breastfeeding, and this year we’re focusing on how partners and families can help breastfeeding mothers-to-be. The emotional and practical help can make a big difference in the breastfeeding experience and the ability to bond with the new baby.

We know that breastfeeding offers health, nutritional, and emotional benefits to both child and mother. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that breastfeeding is a natural process, but not always easy and is supportive for young mothers; Family and friends can make a huge difference. We hope that Breastfeeding Week is an opportunity for mothers, partners, families, and healthcare professionals to come together to share what works to support breastfeeding.

Breast milk is the ideal food for newborns and infants and provides all the nutrients they need for healthy development. It contains antibodies that protect infants from common childhood diseases like chickenpox and help maintain healthy weight in children. WHO recognizes that children and adolescents who breastfed, as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese. In addition, breastfed children generally participate more in education. There are numerous benefits for breastfeeding women, such as a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Despite the well-documented benefits of breastfeeding and national ambitions to increase breastfeeding rates, in the UK we still have some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. Eight out of ten women in the UK stop breastfeeding before they want to. If we, as health professionals and as a society, are serious about improving breastfeeding rates and helping women do so, we need to understand why they are.

Evidence suggests:

  • It is important to understand the mother’s decision and what and who influenced her decision to breastfeed or not.
  • Almost 68% of women in the UK start breastfeeding, with only 48% continuing to breastfeed beyond the 6-8 weeks, which is below the recommended 6 months according to WHO recommendations. We know that having a supportive partner and family can build a mother’s self-confidence and encourage them to continue breastfeeding.
  • Fortunately, the proportion of babies who received breast milk for the first time in the past year has remained the same despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Graph showing the proportion of babies who are given breast milk for the first time.
Monthly statistics from the NHS digital birth service

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed many challenges for parents, but it shouldn’t get in the way of a woman’s decision to breastfeed if they choose to. the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) indicate that no specific safety concerns related to pregnancy have been identified with COVID-19 vaccines, however it is preferred that pregnant women use the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines as more data is available from the US on them. The newest Government Council is that pregnant women should be offered COVID-19 vaccines at the same time as people of the same age or risk group and there is no obligation to interrupt breastfeeding in order to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The JCVI has recommended receiving the COVID-19 vaccines while breastfeeding.

Support breastfeeding mothers

Caring for a newborn can be exciting and rewarding, but it can also be challenging. Partners and extended families can provide practical help and support to nursing mothers. This can include providing emotional support, including encouraging the nursing mother who can help build her confidence. Sometimes just helping out with simple household chores can make a big difference.

What can healthcare professionals do?

Midwives and health visitors are seasoned practitioners who play a valuable role in assisting fresh mothers with breastfeeding, for example by helping nursing mothers comfortably position and restrain their baby on the breast. They are effective in enabling new mothers to start and continue breastfeeding and can help them make informed nutritional decisions. They are also skilled at involving partners and making sure they are involved in taking care of the baby. For information for healthcare professionals, see the Areas of high impact Website for the first years and the interactive Quiet cityscape. Peer support and hotlines are also available, such as National breastfeeding hotline.

Healthcare professionals play a vital role in promoting information and support to parents, and advising them to make decisions that will benefit their child’s health and well-being. Start in life provides parents and expectant parents with trusted NHS advice on pregnancy, early years, and breastfeeding that health professionals can convey to new mothers.

Health professionals and the wider system, including peer support or local support, do an excellent job of caring for fresh mothers, but are not available 24/7. PHEs Breastfeeding Girlfriend (BFF) from Start4Life should help. This tool, along with the support materials from Start4Life, can provide information about breastfeeding at any time of the day or night and assist mothers, their partners and families with the challenges they face.

We hope you’ll join us during the week and help celebrate breastfeeding on Twitter with #CelebrateBreastfeeding, and share our resources.

Thank You For Reading!


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