The ‘breast is best’ message encourages most new mums to breastfeed when their baby’s born – but it’s not powerful enough to persuade them all to carry on, it seems.
While three quarters of women start breastfeeding after having a baby, this drops to 44% within six to eight weeks, and the proportion of new mothers who are still breastfeeding after two months drops by 40%, despite exclusive breastfeeding being recommended for the first six months of a baby’s life.
UK breastfeeding rates are among the lowest in the western world, yet evidence shows the right support helps mums to breastfeed for longer. So, in a bid to make mums feel better supported, a new interactive BreastFeeding Friend (BFF) ChatBot has been launched to provide personal advice for mothers at any time, day or night.
The BFF is the brainchild of Public Health England’s (PHE) Start4Life initiative for parents-to-be and parents, and Viv Bennett, PHE’s chief nurse, says: “Breastfeeding, while natural, is something 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 BFF is designed to help.”
The BFF ChatBot, which is accessed through Facebook Messenger, is a live chat tool which, through one-to-one messaging and artificial intelligence, gives mums 24/7 access to expert NHS advice in a friendly, accessible manner.
One of the ways it’s hoped the BFF will help is in dispelling breastfeeding myths and alleviating mums’ concerns, while also getting important messages across, including the fact that breastfeeding boosts a baby’s ability to fight illness and infection, and babies who aren’t breastfed are more likely to get diarrhoea and respiratory infections.
In addition, breastfeeding lowers a mother’s risk of ovarian and breast cancer, and burns around 500 calories a day.
A new PHE survey of 500 mothers of young children showed more than half were concerned their baby was getting too much or not enough milk. The ChatBot shows what signs mothers need to look for in a baby’s nappy to know they’re getting the right amount of milk.
Around half of the mums also thought people might assume they needed a special diet to breastfeed, when in fact all that’s needed is a healthy diet.
And nearly three in 10 worried their baby might not be getting the right nutrients – when the truth is, breast milk gives a baby all the nutrients it needs.
Another barrier may be pain in the early days if the baby hasn’t latched on properly. However, this can be overcome, and the BFF is designed to offer advice about such problems.
“If these questions go unanswered, it may lead to mums deciding to stop breastfeeding, but there’s advice available to help mums overcome these barriers and continue to breastfeed if they want to,” Bennett stresses.
Breastfeeding drop-ins, cafes and centres are also available, offering mums the chance to meet other mums and share tips and advice about breastfeeding. Midwifes or health visitors can advise where the nearest ones are.
“We appreciate that some people are unable to attend these drop-in sessions or may need support at other times including through the night, which is why we introduced the BFF ChatBot to offer support and guidance,” explains Bennett.
High-profile figures who promote breastfeeding, like Sam Faiers, Fearne Cotton and Blake Lively, have had a positive influence on the mums polled – they inspired 49% of mums to breastfeed themselves, while 64% felt more confident to breastfeed in public because of celebrity mums.
“We’re hoping to give mothers more confidence by letting them know that many of the barriers to breastfeeding can be overcome,” assures Bennett. “Our BreastFeeding Friend is simply another resource to provide personal support for mothers at any time of the day or night. It’s hoped this will help make breastfeeding a better experience and mums will therefore breastfeed for longer.”