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The state of infant feeding support services

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11 July 2017

A new survey from Unicef UK finds that more than half of Infant Feeding Leads across England have seen cuts to support services for mothers and babies, with worrying implications for the level of care families receive.

The survey, carried out in March – April 2017, received responses from 145 Infant Feeding Leads representing individual hospital and community services across the country. These health professionals work closely with the Baby Friendly Initiative to improve care around feeding and parent-infant relationship building, helping to give all babies the best possible start in life. There is widespread concern across the professions about the impact these cuts could have on children’s health. These findings come alongside another survey published last week from Cardiff University, highlighting that many women in the UK do not receive the peer support they need to enable them to continue to breastfeed.

Sue Ashmore, Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative Director said:

‘There is overwhelming evidence for the health benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and babies, and we also know that breastfeeding makes good economic sense – it saves the NHS millions every year and is a major public health issue.

‘When breastfeeding goes wrong, as well as causing distress and misery for the families involved, our collective failure to support women to breastfeed has a financial implication – more illnesses for babies, children and adults, more trips to the GP, more hospitalisation and more stress on the NHS.

‘We know that it is vitally important for successful breastfeeding that women get access to consistent, face-to-face, predictable and ongoing support, provided by midwives, health visiting teams, children’s centres, peer and other specialist support groups. Cutting these vitally important frontline support services is a false economy and will cost our society more in the long term.’

In 2016, the Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative launched a campaign urging UK governments to take four steps to create a supportive and enabling environment for women who want to breastfeed.

We wanted to understand the level of support that families are receiving, so we asked Infant Feeding Leads to tell us about the provision in their area. We were overwhelmed by the response; with most services having just one Infant Feeding Lead, receiving 145 responses gave us a broad view of changes across England.

This is what they told us:

47% reported cuts in infant feeding support groups

28% reported cuts in specialist breastfeeding support

58% reported cuts in front line visits by health workers

40% reported cuts in peer support or one-to-one support

48% reported closure of children’s centre services

12% said that they had not seen any cuts in services.

But there is some good news too:

33% reported improvements in specialist breastfeeding support, a key part of the Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative standards.

The impact:

62% reported a negative impact on maternity services

35% reported a negative impact on neonatal services

71% reported a negative impact on health visiting services

71% reported a negative impact on children’s centre services


“Infant feeding posts have reduced, meaning that Infant Feeding Coordinators are covering larger areas and unable to offer as much support.” North West


“Midwives have more tasks to complete and less time to spend supporting women with breastfeeding issues. I feel that women do not get enough support to achieve successful breastfeeding.” Yorks. & Humber


“We have lost two baby cafés in children centres, and we had a breastfeeding team offering one-to-one support, which has been cut due to no further funding.” East of England

Further information

  • Breastfeeding has a profoundly positive impact on the short and long term health of both baby and mother:
    • Children who are breastfed for longer periods have higher intelligence, fewer infections, fewer dental problems, reduced morbidity and mortality, and are less likely to be overweight or diabetic in later life.
    • For women, breastfeeding protects against breast and ovarian cancer and diabetes and supports maternal mental health.
    • Breastfeeding protection is important in rich and poor countries alike and helps to narrow the health inequalities gap.
  • The World Health Organization and UK Health Departments recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding alongside nutritious complementary foods up to the age of two years and beyond.
  • In the UK only 1% of mothers are exclusively breastfeeding at six months.
  • Find out more and join our call on UK governments to take urgent steps to protect, promote and support breastfeeding:

The state of infant feeding support services for mums and babies

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Call to Action on infant feeding in the UK

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Blog: Supporting breastfeeding: we know what works; let's make it happen

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Guest blog: Can we have better conversations about feeding?

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