Government urged to put breastfeeding on the agenda for a healthier and fairer UK
Published: 23 June 2023
Despite its numerous health, social justice, and environmental benefits, the current breastfeeding rates in the UK are among the lowest in the world. Currently fewer than 2% of UK infants are exclusively breastfed for six months as recommended by the WHO.
Now a powerful new documentary is being released as a call to action to get Britain off the bottom of this global table.
Breastfeeding: Not on the Agenda has been made by Dr Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi, Associate Dean for Law and Policing at York St John University. It showcases the benefit and impact of breastfeeding to health, work, the economy, and the environment. Dr Ndzi is a passionate advocate of parental rights in the workplace and is known for her research on shared parental leave and breastfeeding support.
She has collaborated with fellow academics, medical professionals, charities, and parents on the film, which also features York Central MP Rachael Maskell. Media Production graduates from York St John University, Mpho Dintwa and Mhairi Fox worked on the filming and editing.
The film’s participants* are now calling upon the government to prioritize and strengthen its efforts in supporting breastfeeding in the United Kingdom.
Key points raised in the documentary include:
- The failure to embed breastfeeding in the curriculum at school in subjects like human biology and in medical professions training, is a significant barrier to breastfeeding success in the UK.
- The lack of a legal framework to support breastfeeding mothers in the UK poses a significant challenge to breastfeeding mothers returning to work.
- The imbalance of information on infant feeding caused by the aggressive marketing of formula feeding leaves mothers inadequately supported to make an informed decision on how to feed their baby.
- While breastfeeding in public is legal in the UK, large public places like shopping malls, public libraries, museums, etc still do not have a dedicated breastfeeding room.
- Supporting breastfeeding would reduce impact of mass production of formula milk which could contribute significantly to UK’s environmental Net Zero Strategy.
The film launched on Thursday 29 June 2023 at York St John Creative Centre on the University’s Lord Mayor’s Walk campus in York. The launch also marked the start of a social media call to action titled “Breastfeeding: On the Agenda”.
Although breastfeeding is not possible for every mother, UNICEF notes that breastfeeding rates in comparable European countries, with similar population sizes and demographics, show that it is possible to increase rates with a supportive breastfeeding culture. With this in mind, the call to action asks the government for the following:
- Embed breastfeeding in the curriculum particularly health professionals training and Human Biology curriculum at school.
- Provide a policy on breastfeeding in the workplace which will protect the rights of breastfeeding mothers in the workplace.
- Mandate all large public places like shopping malls, community centres, public libraries, museums, etc to provide breastfeeding rooms.
- Better regulate the marketing of infant formula milk.
- Guarantee a sustained funding support to breastfeeding organisations who play a key part in supporting mothers.
- Include breastfeeding support on the Net Zero Environmental Agenda.
Dr Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi said: “It is imperative that we take collective action to address this issue and create an environment that empowers and supports breastfeeding mothers across the country.
“Breastfeeding is not just a personal choice; it has far-reaching implications for our environment, society, and the individual’s well-being. By promoting and facilitating breastfeeding, the UK government has an opportunity to make a significant positive impact in multiple areas.”
Ros Bragg, Director of Maternity Action said: “There is an urgent need for changes to the law to protect women who wish to continue breastfeeding on return to work.
“On our advice line, we regularly hear from women whose unsympathetic managers are unwilling to offer the flexibility which women need. Breastfeeding breaks should be a standard entitlement for all employees, giving women and their managers clarity about their rights and obligations.”
Catherine Hine, CEO of the Breastfeeding Network said: "We were delighted to be part of this important documentary because breastfeeding needs to be on the political agenda. Whilst we welcome the increased attention to breastfeeding in the Start for Life Programme, a major, long term commitment is needed to support the 80% of women who want to breastfeed and the many women who do not, because as a society, we are failing them in the information and support they need.
“As politicians, employers, neighbours, educators, family members, we all have a part to play. Without committed and long term national leadership, a rise in the number of women initiating and continuing to breastfeed as they want, will be like pushing rocks up hill.”
The campaign continues through July and August with a series of weekly webinars addressing different challenges and benefits of breastfeeding. Booking for the breastfeeding webinars is via Eventbrite
Keep up to date with the campaign on social media using the hashtag #BreastfeedingOnTheAgenda
- MP Rachael Maskell – Labour MP for York Central
- Sally Goodwin Mills - Adv. Health Improvement Specialist – Infant Feeding and Maternity
- Dr Olalekan Adekola – Senior Lecturer in Environmental Sustainability, York St John University
- Dr Michelle Horridge - Public Health Registrar at UKHSA
- Olivia Mozley – Unison Rep
- Steph and Craig Knowles - Parents
- Dr Robyn Powell – Emergency Medical Consultant and Founder of Breastfeeding Support for Doctors
- Dr Emily Creed – IMT Registrar
- Dr Megan Alexandra – Intensive Care Unit Doctor
- Rosalind Bragg – CEO of Maternity Action
- Jo Waterworth – Head of Employment Services, Working Families
- Lorna Philip – Doula and Founder of Black Mamas Village
- Paul Cashmore - Father
- Catherine Hine – CEO of The Breastfeeding Network
- Dr Maria Herron – Founder of ibreastfeed CIC & North West BAPS
- Katy Henry – Law Student
- Emily McMillin – Law Student
- Ali Thatcher – Mother and Breastfeeding peer supporter
- Dr Noella Gormley - Parent & Core Team Member of North West BAPS
- Sinead O'Kane - Parent & Core Team Member of North West BAPS