APPG chair welcomes results of Scottish breastfeeding survey

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, and chair of the APPG on Infant Feeding and Inequalities, has commended the results of a recent Scottish Government survey into breastfeeding rates and infant nutrition.

The Scottish Maternal and Infant Nutrition Survey was conducted in the first half of 2017 and invited responses from hundreds of women, including expectant mothers, those whose babies were between 8-12 weeks old, and those whose babies were 8-12 months old. The questionnaire focused on maternal nutrition, breastfeeding, infant feeding and related health behaviours.

The survey pointed to progress being made in many areas, with 43% of mothers now continuing to breastfeed up to six months after birth, compared with 32% in 2010. In addition, it spoke to an increase in the overall duration of breastfeeding.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“It is greatly encouraging to see an uplift in the number of mothers who are breastfeeding for longer, and I am delighted that this increase is a significant one. It’s important to recognise the work going on in hospitals and local areas by both health professionals and volunteer peer supporters, as this couldn’t be achieved without their incredible efforts.

“The Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative standards recommend that, in order to maximise health outcomes for children, breastfeeding should be promoted exclusively for the first six months. In that sense, it’s terrific to see so many women in Scotland maximising breastmilk and introducing solid foods later.

“I know there is still a lot of work to be done in this area. Whilst help and information is given to mothers to promote and assist with breastfeeding, the survey results show the main reasons for breastfeeding ceasing early is due to concerns around feeding problems, and also finding feeding too difficult. It’s therefore crucial that health professionals continue to provide and develop ongoing support.

“Studies such as this are fundamental, as they provide an evidence base on which more informed policy decisions can be made, in this case to help design and implement better advice and support for families. It’s crucial that the UK Government do the same, in order to improve health outcomes across the country”.

Infant Feeding APPG Chair calls for more guidance on breastmilk sharing

Alison Thewliss, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding and Inequalities, has urged the UK Government to offer guidance on milk sharing – a practice that thousands of women are already participating in through online networks across the country.

Milk sharing has become an increasingly popular method for mothers to get access to breastmilk for their babies, particularly amongst those who have encountered difficulties when breastfeeding.

The sharing of breastmilk online is unregulated and some experts are concerned that without NHS supervision or Government guidance, there is a chance that the practice could spread infection and viruses.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“There is a growing recognition of the unique qualities of breastmilk, and the growth of milk sharing online is to some degree a symptom of this. It is important that milk donors are following best practice to ensure breastmilk is free from any contaminants, but this will always have a degree of uncertainty when people are sharing milk online.

“Milk banks provide safe and rigorously screened donor breastmilk for those babies who need it. The model used by One Milk Bank for Scotland ensures that breastmilk can be collected from donors, processed and distributed using a well-developed network, and I would like to see this available across the rest of the UK. At the moment, milk banks are often underfunded and running as a project of individual hospitals.

“This also sits in the context of cuts to breastfeeding support projects – Unicef Baby Friendly highlighted recently that local infant feeding leads in England had reported a 47% cut in support groups, and a 58% cut in health visitors. Women who wish to breastfeed can find themselves without the valuable support and expertise they need, and may turn to online donors as an alternative to their own milk.

“I am keen for the UK Government to work with the UK Association of Milk Banks to invest in services to allow those wishing to donate breastmilk to be able to do so locally, in a safe and regulated way, and for those requiring breastmilk for their babies to be able to access it easily. I have asked to meet with Ministers to discuss how breastmilk can be shared safely.”

November APPG meeting

Many thanks to those who attended the November APPG meeting in Westminster, including new MPs who have pledged their support for the group. Many thanks to Dr Amy Brown who gave an excellent presentation on frequency of breastfeeding and formula feeding for infants. Attendees of the meeting also got an opportunity to see some of the items in the Scottish Government’s Baby Box, which is now being provided to all new mothers across Scotland from August 2017, and highlight some of the work the Scottish Government has done to promote and support breastfeeding mothers.

Visit to Ayr United – Scotland’s first breastfeeding friendly stadium

Alison Thewliss MP, Chair of the APPG on Infant Feeding and Inequalities, visited Somerset Park on Saturday. The home of Ayr United FC, Somerset Park is the first stadium in Scotland to obtain breastfeeding friendly accreditation. Ms Thewliss has written to other football clubs in Scotland to encourage them to ensure that their stadiums are breastfeeding friendly – click here for more details on the clubs contacted and their responses.

MP to visit Blackpool to highlight cuts to breastfeeding support services

Alison Thewliss MP, Chair of the UK Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Infant Feeding and Inequalities, will be chairing a public meeting in Blackpool today to discuss drastic funding cuts to breastfeeding support services in the area.

Ms Thewliss will meet with residents and local campaigners to discuss the decision of Blackpool County Council to close down the Star Buddies peer support service in July 2017, after 10 years of providing one-to-one support to breastfeeding mums in Blackpool. Ms Thewliss will host a public meeting, where she will be joined by residents, local MPs and breastfeeding support groups.

The peer support service paired new mums with mums who had experience with breastfeeding their babies. The service covered the first few weeks and months of the baby’s life, with scheduled visits before, and up to 6 weeks after, the baby is born. As well as providing reliable and informative advice to new mums, regular visits to the new mums by peer support volunteers helped the new mums to monitor babies’ progress and identify any problems that may arise at an early stage.

The closure of the Star Buddies peer support service has been met with serious concern by campaigners and health professionals in the NHS. Figures released by Public Health England reveal that Blackpool has below average breastfeeding rates, with 61.6% of mothers initiating breastfeeding within 48 hours of their babies being born, compared with 74.3% for England as a whole.

Commenting prior to her visit, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“The closure of peer support services for breastfeeding in Blackpool has left many people understandably concerned about the quality and level of support available for new mums who are taking their first steps into parenthood.

“Mums need access to reliable sources of information in order to make the best decisions for feeding their babies and understanding what works for them for feeding their babies. Drawing on the knowledge of mums who have breastfed their babies within the first few weeks of a baby’s life provides valuable guidance and support at what can be a daunting and stressful period for new mums.

“The APPG has heard evidence of the positive impact that peer support services like Star Buddies can have on the lives of new mums. I am keen to recognise the efforts of those volunteers who have dedicated their time to run the service in Blackpool and challenge the decision of the Council to close an effective, integrated service which made an important contribution to improving breastfeeding rates.”

AGM for the APPG on Infant Feeding and Inequalities

We are delighted to announce that the APPG on Infant Feeding and Inequalities is back! Following the snap 2017 General Election, the Group has been re-registered and an AGM held to elect new office bearers.

The APPG is grateful to MPs from across the political parties for seeking election as office bearers, to the representatives of various organisations that attended the AGM, and to those who delivered presentations at the meeting – Shereen Fisher and Felicity Lambert from the Breastfeeding Network, Helen Crawley from First Steps Nutrition Trust and Francesca Entwhistle from the Unicef Babyfriendly Initiative.

Westminster inquiry into infant feeding policy

An inquiry into infant feeding policy has been launched by a parliamentary group of MPs in Westminster.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Infant Feeding & Inequalities today opened the call for evidence on its wide-ranging inquiry into infant feeding policy. As well as focussing on the challenges around bottle feeding, the inquiry will examine why the UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.

The inquiry which, upon conclusion, will make recommendations to policy makers and Government also plans to hold oral evidence hearings in all four nations of the United Kingdom.

The terms of reference for the inquiry include:

• Exploring both the positive and negative aspects of breastfeeding support currently in place in the NHS and voluntary sector
• Exploring the impact of current gaps in service provision for advice of breastfeeding and bottle feeding
• Establishing the extent of UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative accreditation
• Collating data on breastfeeding rates and staff support roles in all NHS authorities
• Conducting an audit of infant feeding data retention levels in each of the Governments of the four nations of the UK
• Examining current service provision for phone/online breastfeeding advice services

Speaking after launching the inquiry in London’s Parliament Square, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“For too long, infant feeding policy has been at the bottom of Ministers and civil servants’ in trays. This was demonstrated recently when the Government’s obesity strategy didn’t even reference infant feeding, despite it being a factor in future health.

“The UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, even though we know more mums would wish to breastfeed; there’s clearly an issue which needs to be addressed. In addition, feedback on my recent Formula Marketing Bill suggests there’s a real lack of impartial information and support available for those bottle feeding and I would welcome views on this.

“With ever increasing cuts to budgets, it’s been suggested that peer support funding for breastfeeding has been disproportionately slashed, so we’re also keen to look into this more and identify the gaps in service provision. Equally, though, there are a number of groups out there – albeit under pressure – doing some really innovative things to try and support families and babies.

“In taking this inquiry out of Westminster and holding evidence sessions around the UK, I am very much looking forward to hearing people’s views and collating them into a substantive report for the Government to implement.”

The deadline for written submissions to the inquiry is 9am on Monday 12th June 2017. More information is available through the APPG’s website.

Bill published to crack down on formula milk promotion

A new Bill has been published today (Tuesday) which will tackle the “excessive and misleading marketing techniques” deployed by infant formula milk companies.

The proposed law, which is due for second reading in Parliament later this week, has been welcomed by health professionals, parents and campaigning groups – including Unicef Baby Friendly.

The new legislation, drafted by Glasgow Central MP Alison Thewliss, will:

– Introduce plain packaging for all formula milks;
– Establish a body, totally independent of industry, to test all products and verify the claims of manufacturers prior to them being licensed for sale;
– Ban the use of misleading terms such as “follow-on” or “growing-up” formula milks;
– Stop companies from circumventing existing laws by introducing a ban on identical packaging for stage two and subsequent products;
– Prohibit formula companies from advertising in health journals and magazines;
– Bring forward tougher penalties for companies who flaunt the legislation, including greater financial fines and prison sentences for company CEOs;
– Ban advertising of formula milks on TV, social media, the internet and through parenting clubs.

Alison Thewliss MP – who chairs the UK Parliament’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding & Inequalities – said:

“The Bill I have published today is a major step forward in tackling the excessive and misleading marketing techniques deployed by formula milk companies.

“For too long, these enormously powerful multi-nationals have been pushing the boundaries and circumventing existing legislation to relentlessly promote their products to parents and families. The more we see new aggressive marketing techniques, the more we see ever higher prices for formula milk, which is borne by the consumer.

“I absolutely understand and respect that some families will choose to use formula milk; this is absolutely not about breastfeeding versus bottle feeding. I want to make sure parents are protected from misleading advertising and can access impartial, trusted information when making feeding decisions for their children. The consultation I carried out demonstrated that many parents are making decisions based on marketing alone, which is deeply worrying.

“There have been examples of products being recalled or discontinued after they make it to the shelves, for example for being found to have excessive protein. Other concerns include the introduction of prebiotics, which may not be necessary. Without an independent agency to test these products and verify the claims being made by companies, we have a situation of self-policing which simply isn’t working.

“Under the current arrangement, formula companies are also banned from advertising formula milks for new babies but they simply get around this by branding their products almost identically, with packaging showing stages 1, 2, 3. “Follow-on” or “growing up” milks look the same as their baby milks, so parents are led to assume there is a progression. The reality is that there is generally no need for formula after the age of one. This loophole is costing families dear, with most formulas costing around £10 per packet.

“For too long, formula companies have been running roughshod over the 2007 legislation which is no longer fit for purpose. In addition, the consumer has been picking up the cost for an ever increasing marketing war – this Bill will go some way to ending this and ensuring that parents are free from commercial influence and pressure when making choices about how they feed their children”.