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New mums in the West Midlands encouraged to breastfeed with help of online chatbot

PHE campaign aims to improve breastfeeding rates as around half the region’s mums don’t breastfeed 6-8 weeks after birth. Public Health England (PHE) has launched the Start4Life Breastfeeding Friend (BFF), an interactive chatbot tool 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. The BFF gives mums 24/7 access to expert NHS-trusted advice in a friendly way; responding to questions, alleviating concerns, and helping to dispel any breastfeeding myths.

Karen Saunders, programme lead for PHE West Midlands Health and Wellbeing team, said: “The ‘Start4Life Breastfeeding Friend’ is a great tool for mums in the West Midlands who are looking for help and advice about breastfeeding. Combined with support from midwives, health visitors and peer supporters, such tools can make all the difference to help mums get breastfeeding off to a good start and to carry on. Information and support just when you need it is vital; professional help along with a network of people who can share tips and advice or attending local breastfeeding groups can be beneficial for those who might require a little more help. There is also the National Breastfeeding Helpline 0300 100 0212 and NHS Choices webpages which signpost families to wider local support and resources.”

In England, almost three quarters of mothers start breastfeeding (73%) when their child is born, but this drops to 44% at 6-8 weeks* – with around half of new mums in the West Midlands region not continuing to breastfeed 6-8 weeks after birth.$ However, evidence shows the right support helps mums to breastfeed for longer. Public Health England recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months.

West Midlands mum Rashiela Nelson had problems breastfeeding, but then went on to help other new mothers, she said: “Complications during labour contributed to my initial difficulties trying to breastfeed. I managed to express for nearly three months, but due to lack of knowledge, support and confidence I ended up having to bottle feed – which made me feel incredibly guilty and frustrated, but also made me want to do something to help women struggling like myself. I decided to volunteer on the post-natal wards at Birmingham Women’s Hospital and after a few weeks I attended a 10-week UNICEF Baby Friendly training course, which made me very passionate about breastfeeding. A lot of hospitals rely on volunteers to support new mothers on post-natal wards, but having something like the Start4Life chatbot is a great way for new mums to get expert knowledge whenever they need it at home.”

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 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 breast feeding becomes easier, so proper support is crucial at this time, which is where our BFF is designed to help.

“We can all help women feel comfortable breastfeeding their baby wherever they are. Creating a wider culture of encouragement and support will help make a mother’s experience all the more positive.”

For more information, advice and tips on breastfeeding visit:
www.nhs.uk/start4life/ 
http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/breastfeeding-help-support.aspx 

Start4Life is Public Health England’s programme that helps parents-to-be and parents to adopt healthy behaviours.

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

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