How we feed our babies is a very personal decision, dependent on our circumstances, the information and support we receive, the challenges we face, and the social and cultural context in which we live.
To support these decisions, the NCT services we provide for expectant and new parents, including our infant feeding support, are built around a parent-centred approach. This means understanding and respecting each parent’s unique circumstances, and supporting them to make the decisions that are right for them.
Yet very often, right across society, mothers don’t feel prepared or supported to feed their babies the way they want to. They face judgement or feel guilty about their feeding experiences and the decisions they make. This can affect any mother, however she feeds her baby, and has a very real impact on emotional wellbeing at a challenging and vulnerable time.
We want this to change.
Our mission is to help parents have the best possible experience of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood. This means we are committed to informing and supporting mothers’ decisions, whatever that decision is.
- We want all parents to feel prepared and confident as they welcome their baby into the world.
- We want parents to know where to go for trusted support, and to be able to access that support, whoever they are and wherever they live.
- We want them to feel respected in the decisions that they make, and supported to feed their babies the way they want to.
By providing trusted and personalised support, alongside evidence-based information on a range of feeding topics, we have a unique opportunity to help make these ambitions a reality.
What challenges do parents face?
We are particularly concerned about three ongoing challenges to positive feeding experiences:
- A high proportion of women find that they have to stop breastfeeding before they want to, often in the first few weeks. These mothers report feeling pressurised but not supported to breastfeed, and this can have a significant impact on their emotional wellbeing. This level of unwanted drop-off and related emotional impact has persisted in the UK for decades, but is not inevitable.
- Parents who introduce formula milk often report feeling unprepared or not able to access information on formula feeding. It is important that parents can prepare to formula feed their baby safely and responsively. They need to be able to ask questions about formula feeding without fear of judgement. They also need reliable and non-judgemental information, free from commercial interests, on the use of formula, and to know that they can get that information, plus help and support, from us. Many topics, such as feeding cues, responsive feeding, and an assortment of feeding difficulties, are relevant to all parents – regardless of how they intend to feed their baby.
- Women experience unacceptable levels of pressure however they feed their babies… from family and friends, as well as from people they hardly know. Mothers who breastfeed their babies often feel pressurised and constrained about whether, where, how often, and how long, they breastfeed. Similarly, mothers who use formula milk often feel judged or guilty too, particularly – but not only – if they planned to breastfeed.
What are we doing at NCT to address these challenges?
As part of the ourNCTservices project, we are conducting a major piece of new research with parents across the UK, helping to strengthen and shape our future services so that they are as accessible and impactful for parents as possible. One thing we’ve heard very strongly from parents is just how much need there is to be prepared for the reality of feeding their babies, to be able to access good quality breastfeeding support soon after birth, and to be able to access information and support with formula feeding too.
Our breastfeeding counsellors and peer supporters already provide highly valued practical and emotional support to thousands of women and families every year – on our infant feeding helpline, in people’s homes, in community drop-ins and Baby Cafés, and on postnatal wards. With cuts to services being felt across the UK, it is more important than ever that we work to protect and promote good quality support for all.
In addition to this major piece of strategic work, we have a number of other activities already underway.
- We have updated our infant feeding message framework for our staff, volunteers and practitioners. This framework sets out how the services and support we provide, and the language that we use, can best support all parents with infant feeding and demonstrate inclusivity.
- We have worked with a team of breastfeeding counsellors, building on parent feedback, to develop a new framework for the antenatal breastfeeding session and to outline how parents who are planning to feed formula milk (whether exclusively or in combination with breastmilk) can be supported antenatally.
- Our quality team have produced a guide to best practice for antenatal practitioners and breastfeeding counsellors to work together effectively to deliver antenatal education in a way that best meets parents’ needs.
- We have updated our study day programme for practitioners to build on new evidence and parent feedback, to support our practitioners with their knowledge, skills and confidence as part of their continuing professional development.
- The quality team have been working one-to-one with a small group of practitioners who find it harder to get positive feedback from parents after their antenatal courses. This has led to significant improvement in parent satisfaction, and we’re continuing to focus on improving experiences for parents through our feedback and quality assurance processes.
- We are reviewing and updating all of our web content to strengthen our evidence-based information across a range of feeding topics including breastfeeding, formula feeding and combination feeding.
Throughout all of our work, parents are at the very heart of our organisation. Our mission is to help parents have the best possible experience of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood. We are deeply committed to this and to continual improvement. So we always welcome feedback or suggestions for how we can improve what we do.