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Public Health England campaign launches to improve breastfeeding rates as 52.6% of Suffolk mums do not breastfeed 6-8 weeks after birth

Public Health England (PHE) has launched the ‘Start4Life Breastfeeding Friend’ (BFF), a new interactive tool (chatbot) to help guide new mums through their first weeks of breastfeeding.  

The chatbot is accessed through Facebook messenger and provides personal support for mothers at any time of the day or night to help make breastfeeding a better experience. The BFF will also dispel any breastfeeding myths and help alleviate concerns mums may have. The bot works as a live chat tool which is able to respond to questions about breastfeeding posed by the user.

Dr Barbara Paterson, Deputy Director, Health & Wellbeing, PHE East said:
“Many of the mothers we have spoken to have said how important support and advice is in the first few weeks of breastfeeding – although it is natural to feed your baby this way, it is a skill that needs to be learnt by both baby and mother. Not everyone can attend a local breastfeeding group so the Start4Life Breastfeeding Friend is a great tool that is free, quick and easy to use and can offer guidance and answer questions that are concerning parents of babies.”

Almost three-quarters of women start breastfeeding when their child is born, but this drops by 40% after two months.  However, evidence shows the right support helps mums to breastfeed for longer.  Public Health England recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months.  In Suffolk more than half of all babies are not breastfed by the time they are 6-8 weeks old.”

Mum of two Nakita Duffy from Suffolk said: 
“I was very keen to breastfeed and my first born took to it straight away. Unfortunately I found breastfeeding incredibly painful, so much so that I had to resort to getting my partner to scratch my head really vigorously to distract me from the pain. It got so bad that when she cried for a feed I started crying too, but I carried on because I felt I would be letting her down if I stopped.

“After about four weeks I went to see a lactation expert who told me to think of my breast as a clock, and my baby as one of the hands on the clock, and to try manoeuvring her around my breast in different positions. It turned out I had ductal thrush which I’d never even heard of.

“While I was being treated I started expressing my own milk to bottle feed her, but by the time I was ready to start breastfeeding again she had become used to that and wouldn’t take to my breast. The opportunity to chat to a breastfeeding expert in real time using an online resource like the BFF chatbot would have been so reassuring.”

New mum Liz Martin, from Suffolk, said:
“My daughter is 14-months-old now but I struggled for 12 long, painful weeks to establish breastfeeding. I suffered from thrush and mastitis which made breastfeeding very painful. 

“Having access to one-to-one breastfeeding advice from an expert via something like the BFF online tool would have made things so much more bearable for me at a time when I really needed help and support. 

“The lack of support in my local area led me to set up my own support group which now has over 100 members. I have applied for training from the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers and am now a local parent volunteer helping to get better support for mums and expectant mums.”

The breastfeeding rates suggest that many women who start breastfeeding feel that they cannot continue beyond 6-8 weeks. Evidence has shown that getting the right support enables mums to breastfeed for longer.  

A new survey of 500 mothers of young children commissioned by Public Health England showed that more than half were concerned that breastfeeding could mean they wouldn't be able to tell if their baby was getting too much or not enough milk. A similar proportion of mums surveyed thought that people might assume they need a special diet to breastfeed. Nearly 3 in 10 worried that breastfeeding could mean their baby might not be getting the right nutrients, indicating why mothers may stop breastfeeding at this early point.  

Viv Bennett, Chief Nurse at Public Health England said:
“Breastfeeding, while natural, is something that all mums and their babies learn by doing. Mums tell us that after the first few weeks breast feeding becomes easier, so proper support is crucial at this time, which is where our BFF is designed to help. 

“We can all help women feel comfortable breastfeeding their baby wherever they are. Creating a wider culture of encouragement and support will help make a mother’s experience all the more positive.” 

Breastfeeding boosts a baby’s ability to fight illness and infection. Babies who are not breastfed are more likely to get diarrhoea and respiratory infections. It also lowers a mother’s risk of ovarian and breast cancer, and also burns around 500 calories a day. 

For more information, advice and tips on breastfeeding visit: www.nhs.uk/start4life

To access the Breastfeeding BFF, simply open Facebook Messenger and search Start4Life BreastFeeding Friend or visit m.me/Start4LifeBreastFeedingFriend to get started. 
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