Scottish experts call to `change the conversation’ on breastfeeding

Experts in neonatal care, mother and infant health, and nutrition from across Scotland are calling for a `change in the conversation’ around breastfeeding, at the start of National Breastfeeding in Scotland Week.

More than 30 signatories have endorsed a statement emphasising the critical need to shift the culture around breastfeeding and offer more support and help to women to enable them to breastfeed.

Mary Renfrew, Professor of Mother and Infant Health at the University of Dundee and one of the authors of the document, said, “National Breastfeeding Week is an important opportunity to reflect on whether we are all doing enough to enable women to breastfeed and what we could do better.

“There are significant and substantive differences between breastfeeding and not breastfeeding in regard to health and development outcomes, for both the baby and the mother.

“However, we know breastfeeding can be hard for women to do. A new way of enabling breastfeeding is needed – one that tackles the societal barriers that individual women cannot tackle alone and creates a shift in the prevailing culture and attitudes to breastfeeding.

“This should be put in place in a planned and coordinated way by decision-makers with funding, influence, authority and accountability, rather than relying on women’s own determination, the motivation of health professionals, and the work of voluntary organisations alone.

“This will require a coordinated cross-sectoral strategythat engages everyone in the conversations needed to create a positive environment for women, babies and families in Scotland.”

The statement recognises that breastfeeding is a complex issue, one influenced by personal challenges but also wider societal factors, including:

  • limited access to family or community support contributing to ongoing inequalities
  • breastfeeding in public still not being fully accepted, despite Scotland having strong legal protection for women who breastfeed in public
  • exposure to misleading advertising of formula which may influence the public, parents, and health professionals to believe that these products are equivalent to breastfeeding
  • a lack of consistency in provision of high quality support for women, whether in hospital or at home, for as long as they need it
  • media messages that often focus on negative aspects of breastfeeding and which criticise those who speak up about its importance

The statement says that as a result of these factors women often struggle and fail and may experience efforts to inform and help them as pressure.

The signatories agree anew way of enabling breastfeeding is needed – one that tackles the societal barriers that individual women cannot tackle alone and creates a shift in the prevailing culture and attitudes to breastfeeding.

This would include:

  • providing all women with the right support at the right time in the right place. This includes a fully funded system of support available in hospital and at home, provided by staff and volunteers who are supported, educated and skilled in the prevention and treatment of breastfeeding complications
  • providing legal protection against misleading promotion and marketing of formula. Fully enact the WHO Code on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, with adequate monitoring and enforcement
  • ensuring all health professionals (midwives, health visitors, GPs, obstetricians, paediatricians, speech therapists, neonatal nurses, nursery nurses, peer supporters[i], and specialist practitioners as appropriate), receive high quality education and training in line with the Unicef UK Baby Friendly Standards for education
  • providing education for children about breastfeeding at all appropriate stages, as part of healthy lifestyle learning
  • ensuring all employers provide support for women in the workplace who are breastfeeding, in accordance with existing international regulations
  • providing accessible information for all, to educate and inform senior decisions-makers, health professionals, the media, and the public, about infant feeding and ways to support and enable women to breastfeed
  • engaging everyone – women, families, the public, decision makers, professionals, managers, teachers, the third sector, academics, employers, and government - in a different conversation. We need to listen to how we can work together to break down the barriers and create the circumstances in which babies can be breastfed, and women can enjoy breastfeeding


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