Last month, CIBII teamed up with the Better Breastfeeding campaign to produce a survey about the effect on mothers of cuts to breastfeeding support in the UK.
In the last three years, Better Breastfeeding has been collecting information about the cuts, and it has currently documented cuts to support in 44% of council areas in England. There has always been a postcode lottery of support, but now it is even more stark. Some places never had much in the way of support; other places had good services in the past, but following the cuts these have shrunk or in some cases closed altogether.
What Better Breastfeeding wanted to know was – what effect is this actually having on mothers? It’s not an easy thing to find out. Mothers won’t always know if there have been cuts in their area, and if they stopped breastfeeding because of a lack of support then they won’t tend to be hanging out on breastfeeding groups like CIBII.
But we are delighted with the response to our survey – over 1500 replies! A huge thanks to all those who responded. We are currently working through all the detailed answers – it may take a while – but already we’ve found some interesting results.
Of those who responded, 29% said there had been cuts to breastfeeding support in their area. Better Breastfeeding knew about most of these cuts, but others were news to the campaign, which will follow up on those leads and will include that data in the next version of their table of cuts. Only 3% were certain there had not been cuts in their area, and the majority, 68%, were not sure.
Overwhelmingly, the survey shows that mothers greatly value the sort of breastfeeding support they got from dedicated breastfeeding services, like peer support and specialist support. Over and again, mothers said that without that support they would have stopped breastfeeding. In particular, those who had access to support at home in the early weeks spoke of the importance of this one-to-one service in helping them get over early problems and to keep going with breastfeeding.
Common themes in the survey responses were:
- difficulty in accessing tongue tie services
- the effect of breastfeeding difficulties on postnatal depression
- difficulty finding help and not knowing where to look for it
- much better support in the next town/county
- having to pay from private help because of a lack of support available
- importance of home visits
As the main purpose of the survey was to find out about mothers’ experiences of the cuts, Better Breastfeeding has been looking in detail at the responses of the 29% who said there had been cuts in their area. The most revealing answers came from second-time mums who’d had their first baby before the cuts, and their second one afterwards. These mums were in a unique position to see the effect of the changes.
Many of these second-time mums had difficulties breastfeeding their first baby, but managed to get past these with the help of peer supporters, breastfeeding counsellors and lactation consultants. They were generally finding it much easier to breastfeed their second baby, as they were more experienced, despite the lack of support now available to them. But they felt sure that if that had been their first baby, they’d have stopped breastfeeding early on because of the lack of support available.
Here are some examples of the replies from these mums:
“It WAS fantastic with my first child. The weekly drop in sessions were invaluable. However, these were cancelled when my son was 8 months old. No real replacement was offered. I completed breastfeeding peer supporter training in a different local authority (and now volunteer my time in that local authority) and were it not for the support I receive there, I probably wouldn’t still be breastfeeding my second child.” – mum from Hampshire
“I attended one of the local breastfeeding support groups after I had my little boy. However, the group stopped running a couple of weeks later due to funding cuts. Thankfully this is my second baby and I breastfed my first so I didn’t feel I needed quite the same level of support. I can honestly say though that if this happened when I had my daughter I would have probably given up breastfeeding as I struggled so much. The breastfeeding Star Buddies helped me enormously as I was in a great deal of pain when feeding and if it wasn’t for their help and guidance and continued support I would not have been able to carry on.” – mum from Lancashire
“When I had my first child 2 years ago the support was great and our local breastfeeding lead was crucial to my breastfeeding journey and my decision to become a peer supporter. However, shortly after I had my now almost 5 month old she was forced to leave and there has been absolutely no support given. It has been a much harder journey and has only been because of my peer supporter training that I was able to work [through] the breastfeeding problems and continue my breastfeeding journey.” – mum from Birmingham
“I went to breastfeeding group every week with my first baby (born in April 2012). With my second they’d all gone (born Feb 2016).” – mum from Sutton
“[There’s] no breastfeeding support to come to your home anymore. This was invaluable when I had my first child (3 years ago)… it was brilliant as I felt comfortable and safe gaining support to feed my son in my own home. I found it extremely difficult to get breastfeeding started with my second, born in Dec 2017, without this service. Without this support when my daughter was born, I felt a bit lost and found it difficult to gain support elsewhere.” – mum from Oxfordshire
“Support was great when I had my first child. I’m still just working from that knowledge I gained then.” – mum from Hampshire
“In 2014 it was brilliant being a 1st time mum, now there isn’t any local help.” – mum from Devon
“I breastfed two children 2.5 years apart. With first child I was unaware initially of support available so didn’t use it all until a month into my breastfeeding journey. With second child 2.5 years later I found the support that was there 2.5 years ago had been dramatically cut both by the NHS and local authority.” – mum from Derby
“With my first child 5 years ago we had a drop-in baby cafe that you could visit to receive support from peers and breastfeeding counsellors. I also had a home visit from this service referred from my local children’s centre. Last summer I had my second baby and the baby cafe has now been closed and there is nothing similar to replace it. We now have children’s centre services placed into libraries, so a few of these libraries run a breastfeeding support group each week. I attended one of these looking for advice from someone trained/knowledgeable about breastfeeding concerns and although very friendly the group was run by a health visitor who wasn’t as knowledgeable as a breastfeeding counsellor. I found it difficult to get to breastfeeding support groups in the libraries and found it a bit of an awkward setting.” – mum from Northamptonshire
“My last pregnancy in 2014 I had access to an Infant Feeding Team. They were amazing at coming straight to my house to help me when I was struggling in the first few weeks of breast feeding. They loaned me a pump and explained where the local breast feeding cafes were. This time round in 2017 the infant feeding team doesn’t exist anymore. Thankfully, I was much more confident at going to the BF support cafes and feeding got off to a much better start but I think I would have given up far quicker this time without having the confidence as a second time mum and I worry for what it means for new mums in the area. Cafes are great but you don’t get the one to one support that frankly you need.” – mum from Redbridge
“[My personal experience of breastfeeding support is] it’s crucial. I wouldn’t be breastfeeding without it. Luckily I had my first baby 5 years ago when help was readily available but this time around there is nothing local to me.” – mum from Oxfordshire
“Breastfeeding is hard and so many of my friends have given up because it was too hard in the beginning. With my first pregnancy, it was better as there was a local BF support group each week where I could ask questions and share my experience. With this pregnancy, there is nothing. I honestly think that if this was my first baby and if I hadn’t had the support the first time round, I would have given up by now.”– mum from Hampshire
“When my now 4-year-old was a baby I was able to attend 2 excellent local breast feeding groups which offered invaluable support and advice. Now 4 years later with my 2nd baby these groups are no longer running. Luckily I have found this breastfeeding journey easier than my first but had the support not been there with my first baby I can’t say for sure if I would have continued to breastfeed for as long as I did (15 months).” – mum from South Somerset
Better Breastfeeding plans to work through the survey results over the coming weeks, and we’ll keep you posted with the results as they emerge. The campaign will also be sharing the results widely to push for better support for mothers who want to breastfeed and to help end these damaging cuts.
Thanks again to all those who responded to the survey.