Editor Penny Hosie (26/06/12) bemoans the lack of support for National Breastfeeding Awareness Week:
Looking for news stories at the tail end of last week to help promote National Breastfeeding Awareness Week proved frustrating and, at times, fruitless.
The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) was happy to admit that while it wasn't co-ordinating a nationwide campaign, local NCT groups and members were running various events up and down the country. But my calls to the international breastfeeding support charity La Leche League (LLL) were met with a resounding silence. No one was there at the other end of the line - disconcerting given this is an organisation promoting itself as breastfeeding mothers on hand to support other breastfeeding mothers! The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM) fared only slightly better. Let's just say their "campaign" wasn't something I'd heard them shout about - a shame given their raison d'etre.
With a deadline pending, a google search on the Department of Health's (DH) website came up with a possible explanation for there being no united voice behind the promotion of raising awareness of breastfeeding nationally. A couple of years ago the DH decided to withdraw funding and support from the National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign because health officials believed existing breastfeeding literature did the job adequately. To quote from the website: "In the current difficult financial climate, the Department will not be able to fund or provide any printed materials for the National Breastfeeding Week in 2012."
With breastfeeding rates in the UK remaining appallingly low I am surprised by this decision. I was even more puzzled when I read that (and again I quote verbatim from the website): "The Department recognises that breastfeeding has significant short and long-term health benefits for both mother and infants beyond the period of breastfeeding itself. It adds: "However, the Department is also aware that breastfeeding is a very personal choice for each woman to make and that not all mothers are able to, or choose to, breastfeed. The Department's approach is to support all parents and parents-to-be with information that will enable them to make informed choices on feeding their infants." There it is in black and white: the DH supports parents' rights to make an informed choice. This reflects the ethos of their own white paper "Healthy Lives, Healthy People: our strategy for public health in England", which sets out a commitment to support breastfeeding through the Healthy Child.
Withdrawing funds and the commitment sends out the wrong message and is not only misguided but undermines any progress made as these independent campaigns lack the muscle and kudos a DH-supported campaign would bring. The point of health promotion campaigns is that they offer parents and parents-to-be access to information and advice in a non-threatening environment. It's clear from debates in the media and chatting with health professionals that parents want - nay, NEED - to be given the right information and support on the merits of both breastfeeding and bottlefeeding to make an informed decision on their feeding preferences. A lack of clarity on health policy and promotion simply confuses the issue.
We need the DH to back next year's National Breastfeeding Awareness Week if we're to get back on track.