Breastfeeding rate fall is unexplained

File picture
File picture

A significant drop in breastfeeding rates in Northamptonshire has been described as “distressing” by the county’s director for public health.

Dr Akeem Ali has today said he cannot say exactly why, despite some serious investment, breastfeeding rates at six to eight weeks after birth have fallen from 47 per cent in 2009 to just 41 per cent in 2013.

Speaking at today’s Northamptonshire Health and Wellbeing board meeting, Dr Ali said: “Our challenge in this county is not that women don’t want to breastfeed - almost three quarters of them initiate it - it’s what happens when things don’t go well.

“There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence. Is it what happens prenatally? Is it about early discharge? Or is it about what happens afterwards?

“There’s a lot of support from the statutory and non-statutory sides and there’s a lot of investment.

“What I am distressed about is that that money is not delivering the results we want and I am unable to qualify why.”

The board is a group of civic leaders meet five times each year to discuss important issues affecting the overall health of the county.

Breastfeeding is seen as incredibly important as it improves the immune system, reduces the chances of gastro-related illnesses and chest and ear infections, helps emotional bonding between mother and baby and reduces the risk of obesity in later life.

In Northamptonshire, only 64 per cent of women began breastfeeding in 2007-8. That has now risen to 73 per cent, but many of those women have given up by six to eight weeks after the birth of their child.

Healthwatch chairman Will Pope said: “The Babyways scheme at Northampton General Hospital is showing success so why can’t we roll it out at scale and pace? Why can’t we roll out services that deliver so we can get impact?”

County Council director for children, customers and families, Alex Hopkins said: “Breastfeeding is important in terms of nutrition, development, regulation of obesity and immunity. All of these are really big things.

“Getting things right has a very significant impact.”

The report to the board showed that over the past three years public health funding for breast feeding has dramatically reduced from £200,000 to £56,000.

KGH employ maternity support workers who provide home visits and breastfeeding support to women between discharge from hospital and handover to the health visitor which costs £100,000.

Another cost to the economy is the cost for breastfeeding re–admissions to hospital within 28 days. In 2010-11 the cost was £90,719, which equates to 83 newborn babies readmitted to hospital. If a new born baby is discharged from hospital with their mother and has to be readmitted to the paediatric ward at day five due to weight loss, the cost is £1,093.

The report goes on to say these readmissions could be avoided if the correct procedure was followed and if staff were more helpful in supporting mothers.

In Northamptonshire approximately £400,000 is spent on breastfeeding not including the cost of the professional staff such as midwives or health visitors or what other agencies provide or spend.

The report also raises significant questions about the poor recording of breastfeeding rates in the county.

Health bosses are now recommending that there needs to be a seamless service between maternity and health visiting so stop a lack of consistency in services available to women.

They are also hoping to improve ongoing breastfeeding support through peer supporting and to have a dedicated breastfeeding workforce that can support maternity teams, health visitors, GPs and children’s centres.

There is a link to the full report { |here|}

Meanwhile, Corby Council is set to adopt a new breastfeeding policy at its Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting next week. The authority’s paper is designed to fit in with the county’s health and wellbeing strategy which sets breastfeeding as a priority.

The council is to publish new guidance that encourages breastfeeding in all of its public buildings, and sets aside additional private areas for mothers to use if they wish to. The policy, directed at members of staff, says: “If a member of the public objects to somebody breastfeeding on the premises tactfully and politely explain that the council supports and encourages breastfeeding on the premises.

“You may wish to suggest the complainant moves to an area where they are no longer able to ’view’ the mother and if they continue to object you could suggest to the customer that they come back at a later time. Under no circumstances should you ask the breastfeeding mother to move, cover up or stop feeding her baby.”