As many of you know, I am a volunteer breastfeeding peer supporter. I love my role, helping mothers who want to breastfeed. Its something I feel passionate about. The service we provide is invaluable to many mothers, with drop-in groups manned by qualified breastfeeding peer supporters running in the Shepway area every weekday (17 locations in total around Kent) and support from Lactation consultants available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via the helpline, Facebook page and website enquiry form.
But the service as we know it is under threat.
Kent County Council, in an effort to save money, have decided not to renew their contract with PSB, who are currently contracted to provide this vital service across Kent. They intend to replace breastfeeding groups with health visitor “hubs”. Dedicated breastfeeding peer supporters will become Infant feeding peer supporters, possibly with the expectation that they can be consulted for all feeding issues (this is as yet unclear). We are not trained for this, only for providing breastfeeding support. It is proposed that there will be 3 of these baby hubs a week in the Shepway area.
There will be only 4 clinics with access to a lactation consultant a week, throughout the whole of Kent, and these appointments will only be available if booked via a referral from a health professional.
Gone will be the safe space where breastfeeding Mothers can come to seek support, or just socialise, with like-minded women.
Gone will be the Breastfeeding consultants (in the Shepway area, the lovely Katy), who provide a vital bridge between peer support and Lactation consultant, with the ability to refer on when necessary.
Gone will be the 24/7 support, replaced with a Monday-Friday, 9-5 phoneline.
This is a very short sighted proposal. It is well documented that higher breastfeeding rates could save the NHS millions (around £40 million a year. More information can be found here). This scaled back approach to support can only have a detrimental effect on these rates. Higher breastfeeding rates would = more money available to central government, which would most likely end up with local authorities having more money to spend.
From a breastfeeding mother’s point of view, having a dedicated group to go to every day is a lifesaver for some. Many mothers are shy about feeding in front of other people, indeed many have reported that breastfeeding group was their first public feed. Being around other Mothers who are doing the same thing builds confidence.
If a Mother expresses an issue it can often be met with well-meaning, but incorrect, advice and anecdotes. At a breastfeeding group she will be surrounded by people who have had similar experiences, or that are trained to give the correct information and get her access to any help she may need.
Breastfeeding Mothers often feel isolated in general baby groups. Having a safe place to go, amongst other breastfeeding Mothers, can be vital.
The loss of these groups could be devastating for some Mums.
From a personal point of view, I have attended a few groups with my children over the years. I never felt like I belonged. First as a young mother, then as a breastfeeding Mum and finally as a Mum breastfeeding a toddler.
No-one said anything to me outright. I just felt awkward. I was afraid to share my views and show how passionate I was, for fear of offending anybody. Whilst I am passionate about breastfeeding, my intention is never to make anyone feel bad who couldn’t do it, through lack of support or medical reasons, or who chose not to. But I was worried that this would not come across, and I would be labelled a “sanctimommy” or “breastapo”.
Breastfeeding groups were few and far between, even 3 years ago when had my youngest. So my first experience of being with like-minded mums was when I walked into my first peer supporter training session. And it felt like I’d finally come home. I love being in group, love that I can feed my little one (if I bring him along. I rarely do because hes destructive, and I want to focus on helping Mums that need it) and no-one will bat an eyelid. I can speak honestly about my experiences and my struggles, without anyone feeling that I’m bragging or trying to make out I’m better than them. I am neither 🙁 But its hard to talk about these things with people who, through no fault of their own, just can’t understand. Losing these groups, losing the chance to make a real difference and help people, would be devastating.
What can I do?
There are a few things you can do if you don’t agree with the proposed changes.
- Answer the consultation – The best way to do this is to use the email wizard on the Keep Kent breastfeeding website here. They have made it really easy to put your thoughts and feelings across to KCC, rather than having to adhere to the rigid, and often confusing, structure to answer directly on the KCC website. It is not just one reply per family, so encourage your partner and other family members to have their say too. This affects not only breastfeeding mothers, but anyone supporting them too.
- Contact your local MP – You can find a list of the Members of Parliament that serve Kent here. Just click on the name of your local one and it will provide contact details for them. They are there to serve their constituents, so if enough people email them they will have to get on board!
- Sign the petition – It can be found here. It currently has over 3000 signatures. Share with your friends and family and encourage them to sign too.
- Join the campaign on social media – Like and join in the discussions on the Keep Kent breastfeeding facebook page. A list of local campaign pages can be found here, so go and join your local one!
- Attend a Big Latch on event – A list of events being held locally can be found here. Attending these events will not only allow you to mix with other like-minded people, but they will be covered by the media so you may have the chance to have your say publicly.
- Attend the rally – There is a peaceful rally planned for 9th August in Maidstone. All are free to attend. Bring your family, make a sign. Make a stand. Information can be found here.
Please get on board and do all you can to help us to save these services!