In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week we have a special guest blog for you! This blog really does give you hope and real positivity for the future of breastfeeding support.
As seen through the eyes of newly graduated Jessica – a Specialist Infant Feeding Practitioner, read her dedicated story and you can’t help but feel positive and optimistic! She is trying to reach out to all of society to support and promote breastfeeding, whether it be starting with education in schools or recruiting peer supporters, training businesses or working with local prisons. An inspiring story of enthusiasm and hard work to show how much can and needs to be done, but with people like Jessica offering support, training and guidance it feels like we might just get there!
My name is Jessica, I’m 27 years old from a small village on the coast of County Durham. I’ve recently taken up a post as specialist infant feeding practitioner for County Durham within the wider infant feeding team. My role is a newly implemented and it is looking at breastfeeding support in the community and how the education around breastfeeding is affecting the initiation rates in our local area. My aim is to assess and develop the support we currently have in place, to implement new training programmes and progress the way in which we educate families about the importance of breastfeeding and its impact on the wider population as well as on individuals and babies.
My journey leading up to this point saw me begin my midwifery training at 18, after 2 years I made the difficult decision to leave the course. I felt a bit lost following this decision – I knew I didn’t want to be a midwife but I knew I wanted to work within the midwifery sector in some capacity. I was lucky enough to be offered a job in community midwifery services as a maternity care assistant. I worked closely with families in the antenatal period ensuring they had education around infant feeding choices, then following delivery I would offer intense support via telephone and home visits for 2 weeks. I gained some fantastic skills within my 4 years in this post, seeing daily how education and support impacted a family’s breastfeeding journey. I was also able to study for a degree in Integrated Care Studies at Teesside University, I knew this could be something that I could use to enhance my career further. I was then offered my current post as specialist infant feeding practitioner. The scope is broad! I wasn’t sure where to start but I knew I wanted to take on the challenge……..
County Durham currently has a breastfeeding initiation rate of around 58% and a continuation rate of around 29% compared to other areas in the country who achieve upward of 93% initiation rate! A discussion in my interview was education – I’m extremely passionate about breastfeeding education and I think people need all the information and antenatal support to make an informed choice around feeding. Something I have found as a newly appointed practitioner in this area is the lack of consistent education and support, there is not a great deal currently in place and I think this area has a historical culture of formula feeding so a huge challenge I face is changing a culture! I’m beginning to look at provision of getting breastfeeding on the school curriculum in the area, having positive images in schools for younger ages and moving on to having a taught session on the wider impacts of breastfeeding in the later school years. I’d also like to see colleges having breastfeeding implemented within their teaching too. Another programme I am currently discussing is a volunteer programme where individuals can be trained and identified as a ‘Breastfeeding Champion’ – this could be a grandparent, young person, dad – anyone with an interest in breastfeeding.
Another area I have highlighted is prison. In this local area we have a women’s prison and I am lucky, through my previous role, to have strong links with the midwife who delivers the care to women who are inmates. Currently the women do receive antenatal education and if circumstances allow they are encouraged to express their breastmilk in order to get it delivered to the baby (who may be placed in foster care at this point until the mother’s sentence is finished). Another option that is considered is transfer to a mother and baby unit in which mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their babies as they have the provision to do so. An idea I have, which I would certainly like to explore further, is offering mothers a breastfeeding course as part of their rehabilitation. This could be a skill used to provide support in a peer capacity, lead on to further education following their release, or within the prison service so they potentially could educate their peers on normalising breastfeeding with future pregnancies. This is certainly something I plan to investigate further.
One of the biggest challenges I face in my area is that maternity services are commissioned by more than 1 trust – therefore the care received is varying due to the constraints of the trusts providing the care. The budget offered for education and support is different from each trust so some provide a strong package of additional education and support and some provide none at all other than the input from the midwife as routine. To help manage this and ensure mums are getting a good support I am recruiting, training and supervising groups of peer supporters to deliver information and support to other mums. These are mums who have breastfed at some point and feel they can pass on their knowledge and experience in order to help another mum shape her breastfeeding journey. I am planning on having peer support representation in the antenatal classes, in the antenatal clinic, on the postnatal ward and at breastfeeding support groups.
Another aspect of my role is the development of the County Durham Breastfeeding Friendly County Scheme. The scheme has been developed by the county council and the NHS foundation trust, which aims to encourage businesses to engage in some basic breastfeeding training, sign a pledge and display a sticker to promote the scheme. I’m currently in the process of developing the training – on a 2 prong approach in order to capture the needs of the particular business. Whether that is a basic package for shops or an enhanced knowledge for cafes, restaurants, GP surgeries and dentists. The aim is to have every business in the county engaged and displaying our sticker!
A huge national challenge is funding. I know from colleagues I have met since being appointed in this position that there are huge cuts in funding for breastfeeding support all across the country. Some areas had a good provision of breastfeeding support groups but since funding has been cut there is a limit to how many they can allow to run. Within this area I am very lucky to work closely with the commissioner (who is very pro breastfeeding!) which will allow the team to voice our concerns about any potential cuts to funding and allow us to continue to develop our service with their backing.
For the future of breastfeeding I would love to see breastfeeding on the national school curriculum. This would further develop so that discussions around breastfeeding are just seen as normal whether that is in school or in social situations. Educating and changing the attitudes and opinions of young people is a key aspect in shaping the next generation of breastfeeding mums and ultimately improving the overall health of the population long term. Celebrities sharing their experiences on platforms such as Instagram can make a real difference to the way people view breastfeeding and I would love to continue to see more of this!
As far as support goes, if money were no object I would love to develop a national programme for maternity care assistants (my previous role!) in which the role is nationally recognised and families can receive peer support (from volunteers) as well as more intense professional support for the first 4 weeks. The role of the midwife and of the health visitor is becoming more and more difficult with more being put on to these professionals. Although breastfeeding should never be taken away from these roles, some of the pressure can be eased by having another place to refer to for support. Especially if mums require a longer, more intense level of support which midwifes and health visitors cannot always offer due to other commitments. Education in schools, business accreditation with the roll out of the breastfeeding friendly county, development of peer support and development of prison resources are all high on my agenda within my newly appointed position. I do feel that although we still have a long way to go to get to where we want to be, the future is bright for breastfeeding!