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Decision to close 13 breastfeeding support clinics due this week

By Caitlin Webb, local democracy reporter

County councillors will decide the future of breastfeeding support services in Kent this week as it debates proposals to axe 13 clinics.

A petition signed by nearly 5,000 people has called on Kent County Council to save specialist centres.

It will be debated at the health reform and public health cabinet committee meeting on Thursday afternoon.

Everyone has an opinion when it comes to breastfeeding
Everyone has an opinion when it comes to breastfeeding

The council said it wants to make it easier for mothers to choose breastfeeding but said it needs "comprehensive infant feeding support" to help those who choose not to breastfeed.

Lactation expert Anna Le Grange launched the petition after KCC announced plans to potentially shut down breastfeeding support services in 13 clinics following a consultation last summer.

In an open letter to the council, she wrote: “As a lactation consultant working with breastfeeding families every day, I know the proposed service will have a deep impact on Kent families.

“That is why I and 4,940 people signed this petition asking that Kent County Council include the following in their plans to ensure that those who want to breastfeed, can."

Ms Le Grange said: “Most breastfeeding problems cannot wait.

“The difference between seeing a specialist tomorrow and in three days is huge.

“The quicker a breastfeeding family sees a specialist, the more chance they have of continued breastfeeding.”

The nurse also added that reducing the service to one session per week in selected clinics could make it impossible for many women, who are recovering from surgery or lack transport, to receive support.

She added: “Breastfeeding specialists are just that.

“They have completed hours of dedicated breastfeeding education and years of direct support to families.

“Breastfeeding problems can be complex and those cases need specialist input. Complex breastfeeding problems are not quick fixes.

“Often families are seen over weeks and sometimes months.

“This is especially true where milk supply has dropped or there is nipple or breast injury. With only a handful of appointments available each week, either this won’t be possible or new referrals will have a long wait.”

In a report ahead of the meeting, Kent County Council said it is “committed to supporting children across Kent to get the best start in life".

The clinics encourage women to breastfeeding, and help women with the alternatives
The clinics encourage women to breastfeeding, and help women with the alternatives

It said it spends £22 million a year on its health visiting service and would commit a further £100,000 this coming year.

It plans to spend the money running a campaign that promotes breastfeeding and new services.

It also aims to raise awareness of problems with breastfeeding such as tongue-tie, where the string of tissue under a newborn’s tongue is too short.

It added the new plans for the service would include breastfeeding peer supporters.

The statement read: “KCC recognises that breastfeeding is not the choice of every family for a range of reasons.

“KCC wishes to make it easier for mothers and families to choose breastfeeding.

“KCC also understand that families have a right to choose the approach to feed their new baby that is right for them.

“Therefore, it is a comprehensive infant feeding support service for all families, that is proposed, to support whatever a family’s choice may be."

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