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Breastfeeding: Government Support

Volume 710: debated on Tuesday 8 March 2022

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Government support for breastfeeding.

It is pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Efford. I thank all Members present for making it to the debate this afternoon. It feels particularly appropriate that this debate on Government support for breastfeeding is happening on International Women’s Day. It is an issue that matters to so many women, and I have had lots of people in touch about it. However, today, as with every day of late, I have thought of the women of Ukraine and their babies; I wonder how they are coping and I hope that they can get to safety soon.

I send my very best wishes to everyone who is feeding their wee one and to those who are proud of meeting their breastfeeding goals. I also send my love and thoughts to those who have struggled and felt let down, and to those who carry those feelings around with them for the rest of their lives. We all know that breastfeeding is natural, but it is certainly not easy.

In this debate, I want to talk about the wider context for supporting breastfeeding, because it does not happen on its own. It takes a range of support, across Government, in employment law, equalities legislation and financial support for the maternity, health visiting, peer support and tongue-tie services that are so necessary. I know that Scotland is not perfect, but we have placed breastfeeding support in our programme for Government and engaged positively in the “Becoming Breastfeeding Friendly” international programme. Our investment is paying off, with the data showing an increase in breastfeeding rates. Almost two thirds—66%—of babies born in Scotland in 2020-21 were breastfed for at least some time after their birth. More than half of babies—55%—were being breastfed at 10 to 14 days of age in 2020-21. That has increased from 44% in 2002-03, so it shows what a difference that investment can make. I was also glad to see in the Scottish data that 21% of toddlers were receiving some form of breastmilk. We know that because Scotland has invested in that data, whereas the English infant feeding study was cancelled some years ago. It needs to be reinstated so that that can be tracked.

I was really glad that the UK Government announced a £50 million investment in breastfeeding, but I would be grateful if the Minister could share some more detail on how exactly that will be spent, and how the spend will be monitored. There are many fears that, although it sounds like an awful lot of money, and in some ways it is, it could be spread too thinly across services across England. We also need to regulate the factors that can dissuade and diminish breastfeeding, such as aggressive marketing of infant formula—a global issue, but one on which the UK Government can play a leading role.

I thank Parliament’s digital engagement team for its support in putting out a survey for the debate. It had a whopping 2,618 responses in the very short time that the survey was running, so I thank each and every person who responded for doing so, and for helping to inform the debate. I also thank those who contacted me directly. I hope that I will be able to fit in all the concerns that they raised. Following that social media request, in response to the question “What policies would have encouraged or supported you, your family or friends in breastfeeding?” respondents came back with a number of remarks and policy suggestions around several key themes. The first was better information and guidance through classes and healthcare professionals. Lauren responded to say:

“Covid meant there were no antenatal classes available, however midwives did not discuss breastfeeding other than asking if I intended to do it. There was no feeding support offered in hospital and no information about what feeding support is available. If literature had been available as to what support is available and how to access this, including infant feeding teams and information around tongue-tie, this would be helpful.”

That lack of information, particularly around the time of covid, has been felt by many people who responded to the survey, and indeed people in my own family. It is still going on, with mums from Newham complaining about not being able to be with their babies, and restrictions being unfairly put in place. That continues to this day. Others pointed out the importance of the provision of lactation consultants, with Georgie saying:

“I had access to a lactation consultant because I’m lucky enough to have that privilege but for my friend who did take the ill advice of her midwives, she was misdirected and her breastfeeding journey ended after four weeks.”

There are too many whose journeys finish too soon.

Workplace support is also vital to support women on their breastfeeding journey. Katie said:

“Women need to be supported so that when they return to work they have a dedicated space that they can pump and store milk so that they continue to breastfeed.”

Billie-Jean said:

“Too many workplaces don’t have suitable rooms so women have to choose between returning to work or not working to be able to keep providing breast milk for their children.”

Looking more widely at public education, Susannah said:

“Policies within education in schools—lessons around conception/fertility—breastfeeding should be learnt about accurately from a scientific view so children learn its value and importance and it is normalised.”

I know that the breastfeeding network in Ayrshire does a huge amount of work to ensure that it gets into schools to tell young people about breastfeeding.

To move to the global context on breastfeeding, the international code of marketing of breastmilk substitutes is 41 this year. It was written in response to the aggressive marketing of infant formula, which is of course to the detriment of breastfeeding. I know that it can be a really sensitive issue, so I would like to be absolutely clear that I believe that formula is an essential item that must be available to those who need it. People using formula deserve to receive impartial support and advice, not marketing and advertising.

I commend the hon. Lady for bringing forward this debate. She has certainly been a champion on this issue—that word is used often in this House, but it is applicable to her. Following on from my work with her in the all-party parliamentary group on infant feeding and inequalities, I met a lady called Claire Flynn—a Breastival board member from Belfast—who I think the hon. Lady knows. She said that breastfeeding strategies and plans vary across Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland. Does the hon. Lady agree that there is a real need to reinstate the infant feeding survey? We understand that work on that is under way at Public Health England. Northern Ireland must be included and funding must be made available to enable that. Through the hon. Lady, I ask the Minister to consider a UK-wide approach.

Order. For those who missed the start of the debate, and so that people do not miss out on their time—we are tight for time—let me just say that we had planned to give Alison four to five minutes, and she has that now. Then the SNP spokesperson will have three to four minutes, Back Benchers two to three minutes and the Minister 10 minutes. I thought it would be worth intervening with that so that Members could work out the timing of their speeches.

Thank you, Mr Efford. I had a conversation with some of the senior Clerks, and I had thought I would be allowed to slightly extend my time if we could get back quickly from the Chamber after the statement.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s comments about Breastival; it is a wonderful event in Northern Ireland and I have been able to participate in it. I agree very much that we need to have consistency and the infant feeding survey.

The World Health Organisation and UNICEF published a report last month entitled, “How the marketing of formula milk influences our decisions on infant feeding”, which found that this $55 billion industry is still doing all it can to target families and to influence their feeding choices,

“undermining women’s confidence and cynically exploiting parents’ instinct to do the best for their children”.

Their data estimates that scaling up breastfeeding globally could prevent the deaths of 800,000 children under five and 20,000 breast cancer deaths among women every single year, which is quite astonishing.

Exposure to formula milk marketing reaches 84% of all women surveyed in the UK. We all know that this advertising works—that is exactly why companies invest so much money, time and effort in it. It influences which brands we choose and how much we spend. The report states that the evidence is strong that formula milk marketing —not the product itself—disrupts informed decision making and undermines breastfeeding and child health. Those who responded to the survey for this debate agreed. Deborah said:

“The aggressive advertising of infant milks and bottles undermines the giving of human milk at every step. It feeds us doubt of our own bodies.”

Stacey said:

“Advertising infant formula basically makes out that breastfeeding should be done for 6 months maximum, then baby should be on ‘proper’ milk. It is completely untrue and it needs to be better regulated as people just assume a baby will be bottle fed formula and advertising does an excellent job of solidifying this belief.”

Much of the marketing in the UK is done through traditional means such as television, but there is also a lot going on in social media, through companies’ advertising and influencers, and through online baby clubs run by formula companies, which are a tool to recruit and to market to families, and are a lot harder to monitor. What discussions has the Minister had with her colleagues at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport about whether such marketing should be brought into the scope of the Online Safety Bill? After all, this is about the health and wellbeing of parents and the best start for our youngest citizens.

Alongside investing in comprehensive service provision, the Government should do their bit to advertise breastfeeding. There was a brilliant campaign by the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland called “Not Sorry Mums”. I encourage the Minister to watch it and to see what more her Department can do to protect, promote and support breastfeeding through the means at her disposal. After all, if there can be giant billboards promoting levelling up, there is no reason why there cannot be breastfeeding ones on exactly the same scale. The new mural in Greenock by graffiti artist Smug depicts beautifully a breastfeeding mermaid across a whole gable end. Some have argued that normalising breastfeeding ought to use real women rather than fantastical mermaids, but it is beautiful and we should have a lot more of that.

I repeat that it is crucial to have the service provision there, not just the advertising or the advice; otherwise, we are setting women up to fail. Emma, who responded, said,

“there is a lot of information promoting breastfeeding through the NHS but then very little actual support to help facilitate it. This mixed messaging then causes women to feel like a failure if they are not successful meeting in their breastfeeding goals.”

Donor milk has a crucial role to play in supporting babies in neonatal units. I am proud that Scotland has had a national milk bank based in Glasgow for some years now, but the picture is a bit patchier in other parts of the UK. Professor Amy Brown and Dr Natalie Shenker have been researching the impact that milk banks can have on the mental health of women and their families, in offering both reassurance and support for mums until their own milk comes through. I urge the Minister to engage with that research and see what more can be done to develop and support milk banking.

The provision of tongue-tie treatment is also patchy, but it can make all the difference to parents. Siân contacted me to share her experience, the distress she went through and her heartfelt thanks to her fairy godmother Lisa, a specialist breastfeeding support worker who listened to her and got her the support she so desperately needed. Everyone should have access to a Lisa.

I would add that it is also important to recognise the other disparities and inequalities that exist. Those living in deprived communities are less likely to breastfeed—although there is some evidence in Scotland of the difference we are making on that. Those who are new to the UK also encounter barriers coming into a bottle-feeding culture and feel pressured to adopt that culture rather than continuing to breastfeed, as their families would have done before. There are also barriers for those who are HIV-positive, who can receive very variable advice, and barriers put in the way of LGBT couples. Laura-Rose Thorogood of The LGBT Mummies Tribe contacted me to highlight the lack of support that she and others like her had experienced. I hope the Minister will meet that group, too, to discuss support further.

I could speak about this for much longer, as I am sure you are aware, Mr Efford. I could give numerous examples and testimony to illustrate what more needs to be done. I would like the Minister to agree to look seriously at the funding of all services and at the full implementation of the international code of marketing breastmilk substitutes, as the World Health Organisation and UNICEF have called for. She has the power to make this change to protect, promote and support breastfeeding now and in the future.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Efford. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) on securing this hugely important debate. I hope you can do all you can in the Chair to ensure that we have all the time allocated to this debate that we should have, because we have precious little time on support for breastfeeding, but it is vital to so many people.

I am glad that this issue is getting time in the House, and I completely understand how difficult breastfeeding is, why it is not possible for many women, which is totally understandable, and how often it needs support. The current lack of provision for breastfeeding support and the impact of not restoring services after covid will be the main subject of my speech, and that is what constituents have been contacting me about. I breastfed my four children for a total of five years, so I understand the need for support and also the need to weigh babies frequently and straightaway, alongside breastfeeding, especially at the beginning, which is something else that has been cut. It is heart-wrenching to know that many mothers in my constituency are not getting the support that was easily available for me. Breastfeeding is also intertwined with mental health and can strengthen maternal and infant resilience if it is properly supported.

The Minister knows Wandsworth well, so I am glad to be able to raise the situation there. We saw the near total disintegration of breastfeeding support in the community during covid, and it has not yet returned. Every single health visitor infant feeding team was deployed during the pandemic and every single children’s centre closed, so there were no drop-ins for breastfeeding support. Just one person was left across the whole of Wandsworth and the borough of Richmond during the pandemic to support all the mothers and babies there. That is ridiculous, because the need was the same, but the support was massively reduced. Although the voluntary sector stepped up, there is no substitute for good-quality and accessible statutory services. The Government need to provide urgent funding and support for these dwindling services and to find out which are not being reopened. They should do a survey of all the services to find out what was there before covid and what is there now.

One constituent wrote to me about her awful experience so far. She said that, since covid, a lot of breastfeeding clinics providing support to mothers have closed. The only local clinic that she has managed to find is a two-hour clinic on Fridays in Kingston, which is quite far away. Otherwise, there is no provision in Putney and no way of getting a baby weighed other than by going to A&E or asking for a health visitor—something that is very difficult to get. The Eileen Lecky clinic in Putney was fantastic and used to provide this service, but it has been closed and the building is entirely empty. Before this debate I checked when the clinic would reopen, because I hoped to bring some good news. I found out that it is closed permanently now. No one was told about this; it is absolutely shocking to everyone in the area.

So what do we need? We need proper Government support. I urge the Minister to do everything in her power to restore these NHS services—in-person, easily accessible services at pre-pandemic levels. We need networks of trained peer supporters. That requires a training programme, a co-ordinator, regular supervision and updating under a health professional. We also need a specialist IBCLC—international board certified lactation consultant—clinic for complex cases. It is unacceptable that in 2022 parents are being left on their own and in the dark during one of the most important periods of their lives and their children’s lives. The Government can and must do more.

Thank you for giving me the chance to speak, Mr Efford. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) on securing the debate and thank her for setting the scene. Some people might think that it is unusual for a man to speak on this issue, but the hon. Lady brought it to my attention some time ago, when she first set up the all-party parliamentary group on infant feeding and inequalities, and since then I have always been very pleased to support her endeavours to highlight these issues and make them more acceptable across society, where sometimes people might have some questions.

The hon. Member for Glasgow Central, though the APPG and through the opportunities I have had to help others, was introduced to some of the people from Belfast who work on this. I have attended a number of their events, which I always think is very important, because if there is any taboo about breastfeeding, in public or wherever it may be, I feel that society has to be more sympathetic and understanding. The hon. Lady has done that from the very beginning, and I have been very pleased to support her.

One of my favourite TV programmes is “Call the Midwife”—I don’t know about other Members, but I never miss it—and these are the sorts of important issues it tries to address. My wife and I sit down and are engrossed in that programme. It addresses the issue of mothers being unable to breastfeed, for whatever reason, such as the physical or health circumstances that the hon. Member for Glasgow Central referred to, and it does so in a very sympathetic and kindly way. The wonderful thing about “Call the Midwife” is that, more often than not, things always turn out right, and that gives me a wee bit of a lift on a Sunday night—I wish life was like that all the time. I can think of only one exception, but otherwise the stories always end well.

I was contacted by Claire Flynn, a Breastival board member, who I met at a local breastfeeding event in Belfast to highlight some of the issues—I have been to three or four of those events. Looking at breastfeeding support across the UK, there are huge gaps in provision. Scotland and England have made significant investments in breastfeeding support—the hon. Member for Glasgow Central has driven that, by the way—but unfortunately in Northern Ireland we have not gone so far, although we do have Breastival and other things we have been doing. We have not seen the same investment, despite having further to go.

The covid pandemic has eroded many of the community supports in place and increased new mothers’ isolation, so it is important that we reach out and help. Urgent action that recognises that breastfeeding is foundational for lifelong health is needed to rebuild and strengthen protection and support for the crucial early years of a child’s life.

As I said in my intervention, there is a real need to reinstate the infant feeding survey—the Minister nodded when I said that, presumably to say that it is a good idea or to confirm that she will answer that question. We understand that work on that is under way with Public Health England. Northern Ireland must be included and funding must be made available to enable that. I ask the Minister to consider a UK-wide approach, if possible, with discussions with the devolved Administrations and the devolved Health Ministers.

The Minister will know the importance of reinstating the infant feeding survey across the UK to provide better estimates on the incidence, prevalence and duration of breastfeeding and other feeding practices adopted by mothers in the first eight to 10 months after their baby is born. We need data and statistics to direct strategy. That is hugely important information for anyone developing policies or researching infant feeding in the UK, and it would provide an update on how policies and the state of the UK are impacting on infant feeding.

I am sad to say that the Western Trust milk bank in County Fermanagh is the only milk bank in Northern Ireland, and indeed the Republic of Ireland does not have its own milk bank at all. Therefore, cross-border, that milk bank has helped hundreds of neonatal babies since 2000. It is vital that the human milk bank in Fermanagh, and milk banks across the UK, are supported. The hon. Member for Glasgow Central has done that actively—verbally and physically.

In Northern Ireland, there have been massive steps to try to normalise breastfeeding, including the Public Health Agency’s “Breastfeeding Welcome Here” scheme, as well as the growth of online support groups and Breastival, which is a unique, award-winning festival that aims to support, normalise and celebrate breastfeeding as a part of everyday life in Northern Ireland and across Ireland. I have attended it on numerous occasions to highlight the fact that men need to be involved in this discussion.

We must open our minds, open the conversation and open the coffers, and introduce into this conversation some positivity. My mother informs me—I know nothing about it—that I was breastfed as a child, so I am happy to join this debate.

I could talk for hours on this subject, so the length of my speech will be no reflection of how passionately I feel about breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is the best thing for babies and the best thing for mums. It closes the gap and gives babies the best possible chance in life.

I plead with the Minister to reinstate the infant feeding survey; it is incredibly important that we do that. I also echo the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) about properly supporting the international code on marketing. There is much more that we can do on that.

It is really important to ensure that all parents, all prospective parents and all people who might be anywhere near a parent or a baby have information on breastfeeding, know that it is normal and natural, and know that breastfeeding is brilliant. It is the very best thing for babies and we must do more to support it and normalise it and to make it clear that it is natural as well as truly excellent.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford.

I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) for securing this important debate, which warrants more time and discussion. I agree that, as we participate in this debate, we are thinking about those women in Ukraine who are either giving birth or are about to give birth in the most extraordinary of circumstances and about the difficulty they face in feeding their children. For those of us who have given birth in normal circumstances, that is a truly horrific thought.

We know that the first few months of a child’s life are crucial for their later development and that parents need support in their choices for their children. I welcome the Minister’s commitment to additional funding for breastfeeding support, but it is clear that the cuts, particularly to Sure Start, were a really bad false economy, with centres having closed, parents lacking support and advice, and children being let down. I was proud to be a governor of a Sure Start early years centre and I know how valuable such centres were.

We have heard that women’s isolation during the pandemic was exacerbated because more services were cut. It was horrific to hear the evidence given by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) that it was only when she rang up that she found out that the centre she mentioned had closed. We already know that there is a shortage of such venues and that we need more of them.

Disadvantaged mothers are more likely to have babies of low birth weight, and low birth weight is associated with raised blood pressure and coronary heart disease, as well as reduced educational attainment, qualifications and employment. Sure Start centres help to level up and supporting them would be a really easy, quick win for the Government to support women in optimal infant nutrition, particularly breastfeeding.

We know how much breastfeeding increases children’s chance of a better life. According to analysis from the millennium cohort study, by the age of five breastfed children were already one to six months ahead of those children who were never breastfed.

I was fortunate to have three healthy children. I fed them all myself, with variable results; it was difficult with some of them and not with others—I will not say who, because they might at some point watch this debate, and you can never have favourites. When breastfeeding works, it works well, and when it does not work, it is extraordinarily difficult and stressful.

We also know that those households in the lowest socioeconomic groups have significantly worse health outcomes. We know that women in those households need support and that such support yields results in later life. This is an important debate, particularly on International Women’s Day, and I hope that we can have some positive news from the Minister to support women across the country.

As the Minister knows, we will be suspending the sitting at 4.55 pm, but if she can make a start now perhaps I can give the mover of the motion longer for summing up at the end.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford.

I associate myself with comments on the importance of thinking about the mums and babies in Ukraine at this time, given how difficult it must be for all of them.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) on calling for and securing this debate, particularly today, which is International Women’s Day. We often talk about many issues affecting mums, but very rarely do we talk about breastfeeding, so it is really important to have this debate. Ensuring that every baby gets the best start in life is really important. As we have heard, positive experiences during this period will have a significant impact on a child’s health and wellbeing, and will inform the course of the rest of their life. Although the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) did not get the chance to speak for long, I sense her passion on this subject and she made her points very well.

Breastfeeding provides significant health benefits for both mother and baby. It has been shown to reduce the prevalence of common diseases in babies, such as respiratory infections and gastroenteritis and the risk of maternal breast cancer, as well as offering protection against childhood and maternal obesity. Breastfeeding also promotes emotional attachment and parental wellbeing. However, as the hon. Member for Glasgow Central said, we need to be mindful of the women for whom it does not work. We must ensure that they get the support and reassurance they need. As the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) said, it can be a very difficult experience for some.

I want to reassure colleagues that the Government are taking this matter extremely seriously. We want to promote breastfeeding as much as possible. The latest available data from the infant feeding survey, which we discussed, shows that only 1% of mothers in England are still exclusively breastfeeding at six months. More than 80% of mothers who stopped breastfeeding in the first two weeks reported that they would have liked to have carried on for longer and that perhaps, with support, they could have done. Common reasons for stopping include a lack of access to support services, as we have heard today, both in the community and at work, while misinformation, inconsistent advice, negative experiences and sometimes even cultural barriers can also deter women.

There are significant disparities in breastfeeding rates across England and the UK. We heard today about some excellent experiences in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The prevalence of breastfeeding is particularly low among young mothers, those who left education before the age of 18, and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. That contributes to a cycle of deprivation and further widens disparities. I agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow Central: it is so important that we teach young girls about breastfeeding in schools, so they learn early on about its importance and what to expect when their time comes.

In light of that, I want to reassure colleagues that the Government are taking action to support breastfeeding and to make that support accessible to everyone who needs it. First, we have the healthy child programme, a national evidence-based programme of interventions to support parenting and healthy choices. It outlines all services that children and families need to receive if they are to achieve optimum health and wellbeing, including breastfeeding and infant support.

Secondly, we have the maternity transformation programme, which seeks to achieve the visions set out by Better Births. National guidelines have been published for midwifery and health visiting services to support breastfeeding. I want to take this opportunity to thank all midwives, health visitors, support workers and those offering peer support. I met March with Midwives just before this debate and I recognise the pressures those workers are under. Sometimes things such as breastfeeding support are reduced or taken away when there is pressure on the service overall. I recognise that, and I am very happy to work with the service to try to improve that.

Thirdly, we have the 2019 NHS long-term plan, which recognises the importance of improving breastfeeding support and sets out a commitment to ensuring that all maternity services have an accredited, evidence-based infant feeding programme by 2024. However, we need the staff and the resources to make that happen. I have heard that loud and clear. We also encourage parents to access support through the Better Health Start for Life campaign, which provides advice and information on breastfeeding.

However, for me the most exciting development is the Government’s vision for the best start for life programme. It is only in England, but I am very happy to work with colleagues in the devolved nations to share best practice. The programme will roll out support to the areas of the country that absolutely need the most help. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom) for her inspirational work in this field.

The early years healthy development review has taken the Government’s commitment to improving breastfeeding rates and improving the support to be included as part of the universal offer for all parents and carers, which will include practical support with breastfeeding, early diagnosis of issues such as tongue-tie and help with formula feeding, which is more appropriate in some cases. The review heard repeatedly from parents about the positive impact breastfeeding can have on their confidence and self-esteem, as well as the value of breastfeeding support groups and peer networks.

In the spending review, the Chancellor announced a £300 million investment to transform family hubs and improve Start for Life services with £50 million for breastfeeding support services. Funding will be made available initially to 75 upper-tier local authorities where we feel the most disparities exist. We will be announcing very soon where those 75 authorities will be and where we can support breastfeeding in those communities. Those local authorities will be able to invest in increasing the range of breastfeeding advice, specialist and peer support, and out-of-hours support that is available in person, on the phone and digitally, creating breastfeeding-friendly environments that will help mothers meet their breastfeeding goals.

I know that time is pressing; I thank the Minister for giving way. Has the Minister done any assessment of how many clinics there were pre-covid? That number of 75 local authorities is great, but what about everywhere else? Has there been an assessment of initial services, what has been cut and what has been reinstated?

I do not have that information, but I was interested to hear about the experience in Putney. I will take that away because I spoke to midwives who were redirected during covid, but I am not aware of which services have and have not restarted. I am keen to look at that, so I will follow that up. I am happy to conclude, Mr Efford, if that would be helpful.

The message we are receiving is that the Chamber has been suspended. I was going to suspend the sitting at 4.57 pm, but if the Minister has finished, we can suspend now and come back after.

I will just conclude by thanking everyone. There remains a huge amount to be done. I very much take on board the points that have been raised in the debate, and I will follow up with colleagues because we need to put breastfeeding higher up the agenda.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—

I thank everybody who came along this afternoon. Obviously we were interrupted, for understandable reasons, and our thoughts go out to President Zelensky and the people of Ukraine. We hope that some resolution can be found.

I thank the hon. Members for Putney (Fleur Anderson) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) for coming along. I also thank the Minister and the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) for their thoughts on this issue. I listened to what the hon. Member for Putney said about services just disappearing and not going back to their pre-covid levels, but even some of the pre-covid levels of services were not great to begin with. There needs to be greater focus and a greater understanding by the Government, so that the funding can follow exactly what is required on the ground.

I was glad to hear from the Minister about the things that she intends to deliver, such as the roll-out of the £50 million to different communities. I look forward to hearing more about that, and I invite her and all Members to come to the all-party parliamentary group on infant feeding and inequalities, which I chair, because its members would like to hear a lot about the money being rolled out and how that service provision will happen. There is a lot to be said for that support, because for women who are facing these challenges, it is not a “nice to have” but an essential service. You cannot get by without somebody there to help you and show you how breastfeeding is done while you have a screaming baby in your arms who is just not feeding. You need to have services there that can support you and wrap their arms around you. Apps and such things are all fine and well, but having actual people to speak to and sit next to at any hour of the day is really important. I thank the people staffing the breastfeeding helpline, which is a service provided by peer supporters on an absolute shoestring. The Government should fund that in order to expand its excellent service.

There is an opportunity here to take the findings of the World Health Organisation and UNICEF report, and for the Minister to have a roundtable discussion with all the experts in this field—there are many—to see what more the UK can do and how we can move forward to make sure that everybody, whatever their feeding choices are, feels supported and that breastfeeding is protected and promoted within the whole of the United Kingdom.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Government support for breastfeeding.

Sitting adjourned.