Kent County Council slashes support for breastfeeding mothers
Dramatic cuts planned by Kent County Council could be set to hit the county’s already low breastfeeding rates. The cost-saving measure, planned to start from January 2018, would involve slashing services by up to 76% and would limit access to breastfeeding specialists. Currently, Kent families can access breastfeeding support at 40 locations in Kent a week – 17 specialist-led clinics and 23 peer support groups. They are all open to everyone, and include access to different tiers of experienced and knowledgeable experts. Mums can speak to specialists – International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs), as well as seek support and advice from both Breastfeeding Counsellors and Breastfeeding Peer Supporters.
In a move to save £404,000, Kent Country Council plan to limit access to IBCLCs, remove funding for Breastfeeding Counsellors and heap the responsibility for breastfeeding support on Health Visitors instead, at redesigned ‘Baby Hubs’. These Baby Hubs are planned to be ‘multi-thematic’ and will likely not include the ability to take along infants older than a year. Second time mums will likely find this a struggle, as will Peer Supporters, who often have their own children with them as they provide mother-to-mother support. There will be only 3 hubs per Kent district.
Based on figures from NHS England’s Statistical release of Breastfeeding Initiation and Breastfeeding Prevalence, published in September 2015, around 72% of mothers in the county of Kent initiate breastfeeding*. However, across the UK, sustained breastfeeding rates are shockingly low, as Public Health England found less than half of women who initiated breastfeeding continue after two months.
Tannice Hemming, a graduate Peer Supporter and mother to a 17 month old daughter is shocked by the changes:
“In 2013, Kent County Council (KCC) held a consultation on introducing the services as they stand in 2017. They said that 98% respondents to that consultation agreed that KCC needed to ‘fill the gaps in community breastfeeding support so that there is access everywhere in Kent’. A whopping 100% agreed KCC needed ‘to provide a specialist service where women who are experiencing more difficult problems can receive help and advice’.
It’s clear that these swathing cuts are simply about cutting costs and ignore the very real benefits to Kent families that the incumbent provider, PS Breastfeeding CIC, have provided. Cuts to the service will mean fewer Peer Supporters (who will be renamed Infant Feeding Peer Supporters) and a reduction in breastfeeding rates across the county. Many women who instigate breastfeeding run into issues – some that can be addressed by Peer Supporters and some that are best dealt with by Lactation Consultants. Newborn babies require feeding 8-12 times per day, so making access to specialist Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) referral-only will sound the end of many breastfeeding relationships. Mothers dealing with pain and potential tongue tie issues need to be seen as quickly as possible. This simply is not good enough.”
Alex Da Costa, a mother of two in Sevenoaks, said she struggled to articulate how disappointed she is by the cuts. Her second child, a daughter, was born in December last year. Having struggled to exclusively breast feed her first-born, a son, she was keen to get all the support she could with her daughter.
“My daughter had a shallow latch and is sensitive to new surroundings plus I had my 4.5 year old to look after so I could have easily walked away from it if it hadn’t been for the amazing ladies at the breastfeeding Clinic. I went numerous times (once I went to one in Tonbridge as I couldn’t wait till the one in Sevenoaks happened) and have been even twice recently, even though she’s now 7 months old, as there are different challenges as she changes.
If it wasn’t for the drop ins I wouldn’t have lasted 6 weeks, the fact I am still breastfeeding at 7 months is all down to the support given by the Breastfeeding Peer Supporters and Lactation Consultants. Breastfeeding is time critical and cutting down the clinics and making seeing a lactation consultant by referral only would harm breastfeeding rates and cause mothers and babies undue distress. You don’t have time to wait to see someone if you are struggling. The fantastic support we have in this area is that there is a Clinic nearly every day within easy driving distance so mums can get the help they need without having to wait or panic about their babies. Breastfeeding can be tough. Don’t make it tougher. This is a short sighted decision which will do a lot of damage.“
Concerns are that the re-designed ‘Baby Hubs’ will be a busy, noisy and distracting place for new and more seasoned breastfeeding ladies alike. New mothers especially can feel vulnerable and having to work on their baby’s latch in a ‘Hub’ full of other people who are not there for breastfeeding support is likely to be overwhelming.
Tannice Hemming added her experience of the current breastfeeding clinics:
“My daughter was born with a tongue tie – something that no midwife or health visitor even suggested or checked for. I went to a breastfeeding clinic and saw a Peer Supporter who suggested that a Lactation Consultant check her. She didn’t get the tongue tie divided until she was 4 weeks old and I was experiencing real nipple trauma – pain and blistering. I felt comfortable and supported when I was in a room with lots of other women who were there to seek guidance on breastfeeding. I worry that the redesigned baby hubs – where you might not be able to bring your older children – will be a place I wouldn’t feel comfortable expressing worries or having a bit of a cry. The drop-in clinics as they are are welcoming and comfortable places where you feel ok experimenting with different feeding positions and getting a good latch. Confidence can be a big issue for breastfeeding mums and I can imagine the re-designed baby hubs won’t be the best place for getting your breasts out! I also imagine Health Visitors won’t have as much time or expertise as the dedicated breastfeeding specialists have.”
Peer Supporters, Lactation Consultants and Breastfeeding Counsellors who currently provide the service to Kent families are urging families to get in touch with Kent County Council, who are currently undergoing a consultation. A new campaign website, keepkentbreastfeeding.org has been set up to help publicise the planned cuts and urge people to respond to the consultation.
More information on the changes will be forthcoming on this site and others. See Kent Baby Matters for more details on the changes.
Facebook action groups have been set up for each of the affected areas:
*Breastfeeding initiation rates, as found in the NHS England report, by NHS Trust
Dartford & Gravesham 69.8%
East Kent Hospitals 70.1%
Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells 80%