Berkshire mothers and babies let down by devastating cuts to breastfeeding support

no breastfeeding

‘Let down’, that’s an innocuous little phrase isn’t it? It probably conjures up feelings of mild to moderate disappointment or annoyance. When Asda home delivery substitutes your loo roll with light bulbs- that’s being let down. When Yodel push a card through your door saying they were sorry to have missed you so they’ve taken your parcel back to the depot, because you left your vigil at the front window for 5 minutes to go pee- that’s being let down.

Breastfeeding cuts don’t just let parents down. The affects of breastfeeding cuts can be devastating on both a human and financial level

Babies who are not breastfed are at an increased risk of: ear infections, chest infections, gastrointestinal infections and necrotizing enterocolitis. Mothers who don’t breastfeed are at increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Improving breastfeeding rates could potentially save the NHS up to £48 million per year

But there is also much more immediate damage that  these cuts do to new mothers. A mother who can’t access breastfeeding support  may experience painful, damaged and bleeding nipples. Despite the fact that, with skilled and effective support, damaged nipples are one of the simplest breastfeeding problems to resolve, it is the most common reasons mothers stop breastfeeding. And it’s easy to understand why as the pain can be excruciating, and  the damage is repeated at every feed (and babies feed a lot!) and continues in between feeds. A mother going through this is at risk of developing a bacterial infection in her nipple, blocked ducts, mastitis, and possibly even an abscess in her breast. She is also at an increased risk of developing post-natal depression, partly due to the pain and anxiety , but also because, without help and support it is unlikely she will be able to continue breastfeeding and mothers who are forced to stop breastfeeding before they’d hoped are at much higher risk of PND.

This is not a let down, or a minor inconvenience. This is a major public health crisis with far reaching ramifications.

Breastfeeding support in Berkshire is a post code lottery (this is also true at a national level). Provision of breastfeeding support has been placed in the hands of local authorities, which has led to glaring inconsistencies in the levels of support available.

All families have access to support from midwives and health visitors, which is wonderful, however, as I’m sure many of those dedicated healthcare professionals can attest, the pressures of their workload means that they often don’t have time to sit for up to an hour with a new mother, observing a full feed, and  supporting breastfeeding. This is where the role of dedicated, specialized breastfeeding support comes in. Breastfeeding support services are needed to work in partnership with the health care professionals  to ensure mothers get the level of support they need.

Reading no longer has a funded breastfeeding support service. Previously there was a funded peer-support service Mum’s could sign up for, where they could receive one to one support from a qualified per supporter by phone, text and on occasion home visits. That no longer exists. Against overwhelming odds there are some volunteer led drop in running

West Berkshire has an in house support service provided by the family hubs, families can contact their local hub to request support.

Wokingham still has the intensive phone and text support service provided by Breastfeeding Network peer supporters.

The Windsor, Maidenhead and Ascot Breastfeeding Network services were decommissioned at the end of March, however they have been able to secure lottery funding so are planning to re-launch this Autumn. It goes without saying that having to apply for funding in this way leaves service vulnerable to not being able to secure funding in the future, forcing them to stop operating at short notice. 

There are separate volunteer run support services still in operation, however, volunteer led support services are vulnerable because volunteers can leave (return to work, move away etc.) and there isn’t always funding to train new volunteers.

So, with the exception of the Wokingham area, things are bleak across Berkshire

Given that roughly 6000 babies per year are are born at the Royal Berkshire hospital alone these cuts equate to thousands of mothers and babies in the area being left without support.

What can you do to help?

You can help by tweeting, or emailing your local councillors, commissioners, MP’s and Ministers, letting them know how important breastfeeding support services are, and the devastating effects cuts can have on local families.


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