Maternity care cuts 'stop new mothers breastfeeding'
06:42 GMT, 16 July 2012
Women stop breastfeeding their babies earlier in areas where there have been cuts to maternity services, research suggests.
Efficiency savings in the NHS are also leading to a rise in breastfeeding drop-off rates in England, statistics show.
Mothers who live in areas where there have been cuts to maternity services are more likely to stop breastfeeding in the first eight weeks compared to women in regions where there have been no cuts, health data analysts SSentif said.
Rising drop-off rates: New mothers who live in areas where there have been cuts to maternity services are more likely to stop breastfeeding early on
Nationally, a third of mothers who breastfeed stop between six and eight weeks after giving birth.
But there are huge regional variations of drop-off rates – in some areas as many as 60% of women stop in this timeframe compared with just 6% in other places.
Nationally, 72% of women take up breastfeeding but in Sandwell Primary Care Trust, in the West Midlands, just 56.4% of new mothers started breastfeeding between 2009 and 2011. Two thirds of those who breastfed stopped by six to eight weeks.
The PCT reduced spending on maternity services in this time period by 20%, SSentif said.
In contrast, in Westminster PCT – where spending on maternity services increased by 157.5% – nine in 10 new mothers started breastfeeding, with just 6.7% stopping in the first six to eight weeks.
SSentif said that overall NHS spending on maternity services has decreased by almost 4%, with the number of midwives and health visitors dropping by 6% year-on-year.
Judy Aldred, managing director of SSentif, said: 'The Department for Health places huge emphasis on the importance of breastfeeding and says there is a clear case for investing in services to support breastfeeding as part of a local child health strategy.
'However, this seems at odds with the reduction in spending and staffing we have found.
'We have also noted a tremendous amount of staff upheaval as a result of the current restructuring and our data shows that nearly 50% of health visitors have had to find new positions as their organisations have disappeared.
'It is likely this will have impacted on the service they have been able to provide and resulted in a lack of continuity for new mothers.'
Emma Pickett, breastfeeding counsellor for the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers: 'Those of us at the coalface of breastfeeding support will not be surprised to hear of the link between breastfeeding success and the spend on maternity services.
'We constantly hear from women who have just left hospital and have been shocked at the number of mothers under the care of each midwife.
'Or we hear of midwives and health visitors in the community unable to sit with a mother and observe a breastfeed as they are pressured to get to the next appointment.
'It’s not rocket science – babies not breastfed are more likely to be hospitalised in the first year of life from issues like gastroenteritis and mothers and babies not supported to breastfeed get re-admitted for dehydration.
'That all costs money, so we’ll simply pay for the under spend in the end.'