Three NHS trusts in Kent record increase in number of mothers breastfeeding

by Simon Finlay, Local Democracy Reporter

More women in Kent are breastfeeding their babies, according to new figures.

Three of the four NHS trusts in Kent, surveyed between 2018-19 to 2021-22, showed increases.

The number of new mums breastfeeding is on the rise. Credit: iStock
The number of new mums breastfeeding is on the rise. Credit: iStock

But the upward trend in the county does not exceed the average for England, except in the Maidstone & Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust.

According to NHS Digital Maternity Statistics, the number of new mothers who said they had given a “first feed” of breast milk were:

  • Dartford & Gravesham NHS Trust 66% (2018-19) / 70.14% (2021-22)
  • East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust 59% (2018-19) / 61.28% (2021-22)
  • Maidstone & Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust 72% (2018-19) / 77.99% (2021-22)
  • Medway Foundation NHS Trust 71%(2018-19) / 66.52% (2021-22)
  • England 67% (2018-19) / 73.1% (2021-22)

The report does not detail why Medway recorded a fall in the number of mothers breastfeeding their infants.

The details are set out in a Kent County Council KCC report into the Start for Life scheme with a specific focus on the child’s first 1001 days, between conception and the age of two, considered essential for the healthy development of babies.

The general rise is down to better communication of the benefits of breast milk and infant feeding as part of a wider £300m government-backed drive.

The push came following a government study into the issue when the Andrea Leadsom Review in 2020 was published.

According to the Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust, the percentage of mothers in Kent fully or partially breastfeeding at new birth visits increased from 61.60% to 62.10% in the same time frame.

In line with other parts of the country, the prevalence of breastfeeding in the six to eight week period after birth falls to around 50% in Kent but which is still up on three years ago.

The three key aspects within Start for Life are infant feeding, perinatal mental health and parent-infant relationships.

The report goes before Kent County Council members on the Health Reform and Public Health Cabinet Committee this week.

Medway Maritime Hospital recorded a fall in the number of breastfeeding mothers
Medway Maritime Hospital recorded a fall in the number of breastfeeding mothers

A report to councillors states: “According to Unicef, breastfeeding is a highly emotive subject in the UK because so many families have not breastfed or have experienced the trauma of trying very hard to breastfeed and not succeeded.

“The pain felt by so many parents at any implication that they have not done the best for their child can close down conversation.

“Evidence advises that milk provides the nutrition for babies for the first six months of life. Infants may be exclusively breastfed, receive mixed feeding of breast and formula milk or formula milk only.

“Pregnant women will be asked by the maternity service at antenatal appointments about their decision to feed baby and will be encouraged to consider breastfeeding specifically to offer colostrum which helps provides protection against infection in the first six months of life.

“Many but not all babies have a period, approximately an hour, following birth of being very alert and this is an ideal time to let the baby lie against the mum’s breast and attempt to find the breast and feed.”

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