The RCM’s updated position statement on infant feeding – what’s new and why?

By Clare Livingstone on 12 June 2018 Infant Feeding

Infant feeding has always been a subject of great interest to RCM members, generating lively debate and often dividing the opinion of the general public, the media and stakeholders. 

However, given that it is one of the most important influences on public health, the RCM is often asked to clarify where we stand on issues such as marketing of substitutes, staffing of specialist services, support for women and the impact of feeding choices on health equality outcomes.

Our new position statement sets out our aspirations for excellence – highly trained staff with adequate time to spend ensuring mothers receive the help and support they need. Our members have a duty of care to all women and their babies, and must be equipped to give appropriate advice and information on feeding methods sensitively, respectfully and in an accessible way.

There are many factors that influence women’s choices. These need to be understood and every effort made to break down barriers, whether these are as a result of financial insecurity, social stigma or lack of support. We know that every woman wants the best for her baby and we want to be able to empower our members to support women to be the best they can be.

We recognise that some women cannot or do not wish to breast feed and rely on formula milk. They must be given all the advice and support they need on safe preparation of bottles and responsive feeding to develop a close and loving bond with their baby.

The marketing of substitutes is strictly regulated by the WHO and the RCM is compliant with these terms.

We know that most maternity services offer care of the highest quality, but are disappointed by reports through our surveys of the inadequate levels of support and inconsistent advice that some women have received on infant feeding.

We also know that services are variable across local communities, with some areas losing vital facilities, such as children’s centres and peer support services. Cuts to these services will prove to be a false economy in the long term and the RCM believes there needs to be more support for women to enable them to initiate and sustain breastfeeding, if they can and choose to do so.

The RCM is concerned by the dramatic drop off of breastfeeding rates from 81% at birth (most recent Infant Feeding Survey 2010) to just 43% at 6 weeks.  Low breastfeeding rates in parts of the UK unfortunately indicate a much bigger social and cultural problem that needs to be tackled. We are aware of local initiatives that encourage businesses to welcome and support breastfeeding mothers, and will work with other key stakeholders to promote innovative schemes and best practice.

As a trade union, the RCM recognises there are financial and workforce issues that can put pressure on women to give up breastfeeding before they are ready, such as obligations to return to work early and inadequate facilities for women to sustain breastfeeding upon their return to work.  That is why the RCM continues to work with the TUC and other professional bodies to stamp out maternity discrimination in the workplace and to end the culture of low pay and enforce workers’ rights.