A Collective Responsibility

The following is the conclusion of a comprehensive review of research about breastfeeding and why there is such a difference between socio economic groups in Scotland conducted by the Glasgow centre for population health

There is considerable evidence and policy support for breastfeeding as the best source of nutrition in the first six months of life. However, the socio-cultural and demographic contexts of the mother are more important determinants of breastfeeding practice than theoretical knowledge of the benefits of breastfeeding.

In a breastfeeding culture, all strands of society would consider breastfeeding as a human right and make it the ‘norm’ rather than the exception. The mother plays a central role and should be supported in her ‘duty’ to make the child’s ‘right’ possible but it is not her responsibility solely, as the choice of infant feeding is located within multiple contexts and influenced by inter-related factors. Maternal health in particular is pivotal since the ‘issues with the mother’ become the ‘issues with the child’. Protecting maternal health invariably protects child health and by extension, the future.

A breastfeeding culture makes it a collective responsibility – addressed in multifaceted approaches – to create an environment where the ‘best for the infant becomes the best for the rest of us’.

I really like the sentiment of the above because it puts responsibility with the community supporting a women rather than the individual. I think this responibility becomes clearer when you understand that the majority of women from all background do initiate breast feeding – over 70%.

Based on the Infant Feeding Survey conducted in 2010, the estimated breastfeeding initiation rate in Scotland was 74%. This was a significant increase from rates reported in 2000 (55%) and compared favourably with initiation rates in England (82%), Wales (71%), and Northern Ireland (64%). However, this rate was still less than the rates reported in other European countries.

However, only 36% were still breast fed by 10 days. So its everybody responsibility to make sure that its as easy as possible to maintain that decision, and for communities where initiation rates are low – its everyone’s responsibility to turn that around. This supports needs to be evident from all sectors of society – if it is just health professionals then there is a danger women feel badgered to breast feed rather than supported.

What can we do :-

  • make sure your local shops, cafes, schools, hospitals, health centres and public building are welcoming of women who are breastfeeding by getting them to sign up to a breast feeding friendly award
  • if you are teacher look at how you can use the new breast feeding in the curriculum resource like that recently piloted by Whitecraig Primary school
  • make sure your workplace has a policy in place to support women who are breast feeding
  • if you have positive experience of breast feeding talk about it and offer advice and support to new mums
  • become a peer supporter or develop a peer support system for women who have made the decision to breast feed
  • if you work in primary care or a a midwife make sure you are up-to-date on how to offer practical support to women with breastfeeding and know where to direct women who are experiencing problems
  • If you are a person with responsibility in public service make sure that your organisation understands that breast feeding is a community responsibility and not just an individual choice.
  • Since its election time – ask the people you intend to vote for what they will do to make sure the community is taking responsibility for supporting breast feeding mums

Any other suggestions welcome

Finally breast feeding is not just a nice thing to do it makes a difference for children and reduces costs

Results from the UK Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) of 15,890 infants found a 53% decrease in the rate of hospital admissions for diarrhoea and 27% for respiratory tract infections in infants exclusively breastfed for six months.

Longitudinal studies of breastfeeding and intelligence in later life (in Denmark and the Philippines) suggest a strong association between breastfeeding and performance in intelligence tests in adulthood. Findings from these studies, comparing breastfed and non breastfed infants, showed that longer breastfeeding duration of up to nine months influenced intelligence even after adjustment for socioeconomic and possible family effect