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Medway Council told to make premises breastfeeding friendly to make it 'the norm'

By Dean Kilpatrick, local democracy reporter

A council should make all of its premises breastfeeding friendly to normalise the practice, according to the cabinet member in charge of resources.

Breastfeeding rates in the Medway are historically low, with the initiation rate of 70% last year comparing poorly to the national average of 83%.

The continuation rate at six to eight weeks stands at just 38%.

Breastfeeding rates in the Medway are historically low
Breastfeeding rates in the Medway are historically low

One of the main reasons for the rate is the “negative attitude of the community to breastfeeding which stems from grandmothers who may not have breastfed their own children”, according to health officials.

A report discussed by the health and wellbeing board of Medway Council yesterday said: “The insights work also suggested that some women felt Medway is not seen as welcoming for those who wish to breastfeed in public.”

Cllr Adrian Gulvin (Con), portfolio holder for resources, said the unitary authority could lead the way in making mothers more confident and comfortable about feeding publicly.

He said: “This is a cultural issue. Having travelled in central and south America, Australia and New Zealand, they don’t seem to have any problems with this – the hang-ups are purely British.

“Cllr David Brake (Con) and I are both on the procurement board and we’ve got to oversee the outsourcing of the cafes in leisure centres. Let’s put it in there (cafe requirements) we want them to be breastfeeding friendly zones.

“We can make a start with council premises and tell people if they are going to be shocked and don’t want to see someone breastfeeding, then don’t go in there.

Cllr Adrian Gulvin at Medway Council (4141809)
Cllr Adrian Gulvin at Medway Council (4141809)

“Let’s reverse this – let’s make breastfeeding the norm. Those stuck in the dark ages who can’t accept it as a normal, natural thing – well, perhaps they can go off to somewhere else where they can all be miserable together.”

The Walderslade representative added that it should be made clear that those who cannot breastfeed should not be made to feel they are “bad mums”.

A new infant feeding strategy aims to increase both initiation and continuation rates by 1% every year, although Medway Clinical Commissioning Group chief operating officer Stuart Jeffrey was not convinced it was achievable.

He added: “I think they key thing is how far behind the rest of the country we are, and the fact that the continuation rate of six weeks is falling really, really worries me.

“I note the actions in there and the aim to increase breastfeeding by 1% per annum, but there is no additional funding associated with it, so there is a large risk associated with this target.

“Even given the action that won’t cost any money, I’m not convinced that target will be hit.”

Medical experts say breastfeeding benefits both mother and baby, including reducing the risk of both illness and chronic diseases.

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