It is almost a full year since specialist breastfeeding walk-in clinics across Edinburgh and the Lothian were closed. While these walk-in clinics were open, up to 60 women every week could be referred or refer themselves to any of the five half-day specialist breastfeeding clinics.
The drop-in services have been replaced by two weekly half-day specialist clinics which have the capacity to see a maximum of 12 women a week. These clinics are now by appointment only, with referrals from a health visitor or midwife, and many new mothers have struggled to get appointments, particularly those with babies over three months old.
Any new mother will tell you that urgent help is needed when breastfeeding problems arise. Any delay, even a day, makes a huge difference to the health and happiness of their newborn baby, and, by extension, to their own health and happiness.
It is blatantly obvious that newborn babies need to feed regularly. If there are difficulties with breastfeeding and a baby goes onto formula milk, it can be a huge struggle to get the baby back on to breastfeeding.
The anxiety and stress that this causes a new mother is profound and can have a long-lasting effect.
Some new mothers in Lothian have been forced to use private breastfeeding support that can cost over £100 per hour. This clearly prices out all but the most affluent.
A survey by UNICEF found that the main reasons mothers stopped breastfeeding were feeding problems and lack of support, so making it more difficult for mums to access support could affect how long they can breastfeed.
According to the National Records for Scotland there will have been over 50,000 newborn babies born in NHS Lothian since the closure of the walk-in breastfeeding clinics.
Breastfeeding has been proven to improve maternal bonding, as well as having significant health benefits for the baby. The Scottish Government has made a commitment to ensure that every “child gets the best start in life by promoting, supporting and maintaining breastfeeding in early days”. The cuts to walk-in clinics demonstrably undermine this commitment.
There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of money, with additional funding announced in the summer to support mums to breastfeed for longer. This means NHS Lothian will receive more than £500,000 annually for breastfeeding support.
Now is the opportune time for NHS Lothian to consult with breastfeeding groups, such as the Edinburgh Breastfeeding Partnership, and new mothers, to find out how this additional funding can be best focused. I will be meeting with representatives from NHS Lothian and breastfeeding support groups on October 15 to discuss the implementation of services across Lothian.
My input will be simple. New mums need quick and effective support to help establish and maintain breastfeeding. Any barriers to this are unacceptable.
Please contact me this week if you have concerns or if you want updates on services to provide breastfeeding mothers in Lothian with the flexible, timely and effective support that they need.
Miles Briggs is a Lothian Conservative MSP and Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health