Facebook tool to help St Helens’ new mums breastfeed

Evija Redisa-Whitfield, a new mum from St Helens
Evija Redisa-Whitfield, a new mum from St Helens

Public Health England (PHE) has launched the ‘Start4Life Breastfeeding Friend’ (BFF), a new interactive tool (chatbot) to help guide new mums through their first weeks of breastfeeding.

The chatbot, which can be accessed through Facebook messenger, works as a live chat tool via one-to-one messaging and push notifications. BFF gives mums 24/7 access to expert NHS-trusted advice in a friendly and familiar way, providing clarity around breastfeeding barriers, which are often misconceptions, and helping to alleviate any concerns mums may have.

Coun Jeanie Bell, Cabinet Member for Public Health and Wellbeing said: “The new chatbot is a really good idea. It will enable mums to get reliable advice around the clock, which is really important as everyone knows babies keep make their own schedule! More and more women are choosing to give their babies mother's milk. About one in two local women breastfeed following birth, and nearly one in four are still breastfeeding at six to eight weeks.

“Local women and their partners have been involved in developing a campaign called Your Milk, Your Story which shares experiences from local women about what feeding their baby is really like and the pros and cons of different types of feeding. With support available every day in the home and by phone through our Infant Feeding Team, more women are enjoying breastfeeding their babies and the bond that it forms.”

Less than 44 per cent of women in England are breastfeeding once their baby reaches two months old, despite the fact that three quarters (73 per cent) of women begin doing so when their baby is born.

The breastfeeding rates suggest that many women who start breastfeeding feel that they cannot continue beyond 6-8 weeks. Evidence has shown that getting the right support enables mums to breastfeed for longer.

Evija Redisa-Whitfield, a new mum from St Helens said: “Everyone knows that a mother’s milk is the best & I wanted to give my son Gustavas the best start in life possible. There was no other option in my mind, it was the natural choice.

“I’d seen mothers breast feed and it all looked so natural and easy, it wasn’t that way for us, we really struggled in the beginning. We struggled with the latch and had someone come out and visit (Day after discharge from hospital) to help with different positions to help the attachment. One side was always better than the other so the team showed me ways to correct this. Gustavas was very ‘colicky’ and a ‘windy’ baby and was constantly on & off the breast. (Baby was diagnosed with a posterior tongue by a team member at a drop in group & referred to Alder Hey) I started to express to feed as I was having so much trouble getting baby to latch at the breast apart from night / sleep feeds until Tongue Tie had been corrected.

“At 3 months we had sudden breast refusal so I began to solely express to feed, this proved extremely difficult due to time and I really struggled with my milk supply. The team helped with ways to increase my milk collection but we still had to offer a bottle of formula – my son reacted very badly to this and was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with a milk allergy. I then managed to express to feed cutting out all dairy from my diet and offering milk free formula on prescription. I was very disappointed that I had to offer formula top ups and I had truly intended to solely breast feed but I had to do what is best for my baby.”

When asked what would you say to other mums?, Evija said:

“Definitely give it a try! Some mums and babies take to it naturally, some don’t, look at other mums who have experienced problems and don’t feel a failure. Seek advice and support, give it at least 3 months, find techniques that work for you and change these as you grow together.”

“Persevere! It’s definitely worth it & get lots of support from services and other mums”

A new survey of 500 mothers of young children commissioned by Public Health England showed that more than half were concerned that breastfeeding could mean they wouldn't be able to tell if their baby was getting too much or not enough milk. A similar proportion of mums surveyed thought that people might assume they need a special diet to breastfeed. Nearly 3 in 10 worried that breastfeeding could mean their baby might not be getting the right nutrients, indicating why mothers may stop breastfeeding at this early point.

Breastfeeding boosts a baby’s ability to fight illness and infection. Babies who are not breastfed are more likely to get diarrhoea and respiratory infections. It also lowers a mother’s risk of ovarian and breast cancer, and also burns around 500 calories a day.

Viv Bennett, Chief Nurse at Public Health England said:“Breastfeeding, while natural, is something that all mums and their babies learn by doing. Mums tell us that after the first few weeks breastfeeding becomes easier, so proper support is crucial at this time, which is where our ‘bot’ is designed to help.

“Supporting breastfeeding needs to be part of our culture. We can all help to create a societal support system so that breastfeeding becomes easier for mums everywhere.”

For more information, advice and tips on breastfeeding visit: www.nhs.uk/start4life/

To access the Breastfeeding BFF, simply open Facebook Messenger and search Start4Life BreastFeeding Friend or visit m.me/Start4LifeBreastFeedingFriend to get started.