21 October 2015 - Local authorities across London should support breastfeeding as a means to tackling food poverty, according to a new report out today, Beyond the Food Bank: London Food Poverty Profile 2015.

Sustain, which has produced the report, recommends implementing the Unicef UK Baby Friendly standards around infant feeding and nurturing, which would have a particular impact on babies and women living in the worst deprivation.

This is because whilst breastfeeding improves the wellbeing and health outcomes of mothers and babies, both in the long and short term, low-income women who leave school early are the least likely to breastfeed, thus compounding the effects of poverty and increasing inequality.

The Baby Friendly Initiative has been shown to be effective at reaching mothers from disadvantaged backgrounds and increasing the likelihood of them breastfeeding for longer.

Beyond the Foodbank ranks all London boroughs in terms of how far they have implemented six indicators which affect food poverty, one of which is whether the health services provided by the local authorities have adopted Unicef UK Baby Friendly standards.

Francesca Entwistle, midwifery lecturer and Baby Friendly professional advisor, who is speaking at the launch of Beyond the Food Bank, said: “James P. Grant, Executive Director of Unicef during the 1980s, summed it up perfectly when he said that breastfeeding is a natural safety net against the worst effects of poverty. 

“As he said, exclusive breastfeeding goes a long way towards cancelling out the health difference between being born into poverty or being born into affluence. It is almost as if breastfeeding takes the infant out of poverty for those few vital months in order to give the child a fairer start in life and compensate for the injustices of the world into which s/he was born.”

Entwistle added: “With inequality growing, and budgets tightening, supporting mothers to breastfeed, using the tried and tested Baby Friendly standards, is a very cost-efficient and effective way of tackling some of the most difficult problems we face today.”

--ENDS--

Notes for editors:

For further information please contact the Unicef UK Press Office on +44 (0)20 7375 6030 or media@unicef.org.uk

The report is available for download at www.sustainweb.org/publications.

For more information on the report, please contact Hannah Laurison at hannah@sustainweb.org or 020 7065 0902.

Deprivation and breastfeeding

Since the recording of breastfeeding statistics began in the UK through the National Infant Feeding Surveys, breastfeeding initiation rates have risen steadily. However, the socio-demographic profiles of mothers who breastfeed remain the same, and young, non-professional, low-income women who leave school early continue to be those who are least likely to initiate breastfeeding.

As deprivation levels rise, women are less likely to initiate breastfeeding; only three-quarters of women (73 per cent) living in the most deprived areas in England initiated breastfeeding, compared to nine out of ten (89 per cent) of women living in the most affluent areas – a difference of 13 per cent. 

The Department of Health, along with the World Health Organisation and Unicef  recommend that all infants are exclusively breastfed until six months. Currently only 34% of women are still giving their infants any breast milk (and only 1% exclusively) at this stage. 

About breastfeeding

Breastfed children are less likely to suffer from illnesses including digestive disorders, ear and respiratory infections, diabetes and allergies, as well as having a higher IQ and being less likely to be obese in later life. For the mother, breastfeeding reduces the risk of some cancers, including breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Furthermore, breastfeeding naturally releases hormones that support a strong loving bond between the mother and baby, which is a crucial foundation for subsequent relationships. If mothers are bottle feeding, they can be encouraged to have as much skin to skin contact as possible and respond to feeding cues from their baby which help release the same powerful hormones as breastfeeding, assisting strong mother-baby bonding.

About the Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative

The Baby Friendly Initiative is an externally evaluated programme that encourages the protection and promotion of breastfeeding, as well as helping build strong nurturing relationships between mother and baby, to improve the health and wellbeing of all infants.

The programme is recognised by the Department of Health and Public Health England and helps to ensure good quality support is available, across the community, for all mothers and babies, whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding.

An accreditation and award system exists for maternity units, neonatal units, health visiting services and children’s centres, as well as for university training courses. The first level of accreditation is the Certificate of Commitment (after 6 months to one year of work) followed by stage 1, stage 2 and stage 3 accreditation (after usually about four years of work).

Across London, 19 out of the 33 boroughs are working towards Baby Friendly accreditation, with only eight boroughs having gained stage 3 accreditation.

About Unicef

Unicef is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.  

Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children. As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK. For more information please visit unicef.org.uk