Monday, February 18, 2013

The power of the first hour - Nick Clegg and Lynne Featherstone, are you listening? #firsthour

So, it looks like my post yesterday about the importance of breastfeeding and a missed opportunity for Nick Clegg during his African visit was part of a cleverly crafted plan to build up to the launch of Save the Children's Power of the First Hour campaign which is being launched today.

It was in fact a complete coincidence. I'm still catching up after having Flu and I found out about the new campaign from, of all places, the Daily Mail.

I was glad to see their new report, Superfood for Babies, recommend a very tough line against the antics of the infant formula companies and the tricks they get up to. Measures include:

  • Enshrining the International Code on the Marketing of Breastmilk substitutes into each country's law, making violations a civil or criminal offence
  • Health warnings to cover a third of infant formula packaging
  • Transparency so we know which lobbying groups are funded by infant formula manufacturers
  • Personal accountability for adherence to the International Code
  • Strengthen whistleblowing procedures
They make the point that this action has to take place on an international stage. Why would you not  prioritise something that can and will save children's lives?

The report also emphasises the importance of getting babies to the breast in the first hour after birth. That's  isn't a new thing. Babies are generally very wide awake in that hour and primed to expect to find themselves in the vicinity of their mother's breast. If placed on their mother's abdomen after birth, they will crawl there themselves and attach themselves. It's incredible to watch. The colostrum they will get as a reward for their efforts in the first few days is incredibly powerful stuff. It contains antibodies to all sorts of nasties. Save the Children call it "the most potent natural immune system known to science". They estimate that the lives of 95 babies could be saved every hour, 830,000 a year.  I can't show you what 830,000 babies looks like, but look what happened when Save the Children got 95 babies together to illustrate their point. 

Now, the Daily Mail has a slightly different view. They have rolled out Claire Byam Cook,no friend to babies or their mothers, who is very pro regime orientated parenting methods and at best ambivalent towards breastfeeding. Her battle cry is that nobody should be made to feel guilty if they can't breastfeed.

I am one of the most ardent breastfeeding activists you are ever likely to find, and I don't think any woman should ever be made to feel guilty if she experiences problems with breastfeeding to the extent where she gives up. It won't be their fault. However, I don't think it's fair to lie to parents, to tell them that formula is anything like as good as human milk. It isn't. Nowhere even close. And it's the job of governments to ensure that every woman who wants to breastfeed is given the support to do so. It's the Government which needs to kickstart the cultural and organisational change that needs to happen and when they start, it won't change everything overnight. 

And what's all this nonsense about not being able to breastfeed? You wonder how the species survived for these hundreds of thousands of years before formula companies came along. Every woman can breastfeed if she is given accurate information and decent support. There are very few breastfeeding problems that don't have a breastfeeding solution and those that do exist are incredibly rare. The problem is most mothers don't get the support they need. When I was a breastfeeding counsellor, I was staggered that women were not offered information or suggestions that I would consider basic.Midwives don't have time to properly assess whether the baby is attaching properly and milking the breast successfully in the first crucial days. It's key that problems are identified early and worked upon. Women who give up because of problems should never feel guilty, but they have the right to feel angry if the care they received from health professionals was sub-standard. 

If you read the Save the Children report, you'll see it's all written in terms of empowering women, giving them real choices and the idea of guilt doesn't even come into it. 

There is so much to be done both in this country and internationally, to get more children the human milk that has a very good chance of saving their lives. Isla Fisher went to Brazil to find out how they had reduced infant mortality by increasing breastfeeding rates:

 The lives of a minimum of 95 babies per hour depend on international action.That's why I'm looking to Nick and Lynne to make the case within the government for the UK to lead the way on this. I'm also wondering if we shouldn't update our party policy on this and submit a motion to the Glasgow Federal Conference in September.Anyone fancy helping me write one?

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