Sheffield is best for breastfeeding

Did you know that Sheffield is one of the best places in the UK for mothers to breastfeed in public? In 2019, the city won a Gold Award for UNICEF’s Baby Friendly Initiative, (BFI) with Sheffield City Council becoming the first standalone local authority in the country to achieve this. But, the work hasn’t stopped there, with the council leading a long-term ambition to support and encourage more mothers to breastfeed. Today, I’ll explore why the BFI and breastfeeding-friendly awards can be part of that support and where you can go in the city to freely feed your child. 

What is the baby-friendly initiative & Breastfeeding Friendly Award?

The Baby Friendly Initiative is a global initiative of the World Health Organisation and UNICEF. It was started in 1992 to encourage maternity hospitals to support successful breastfeeding and was introduced to the UK in 1994. The scope expanded to include community healthcare providers, colleges, universities, neonatal units and family hubs.  The Baby Friendly Initiative collaborates with UK public agencies to safeguard, encourage, and promote breastfeeding and improve mother-baby and family ties. All infants, not only those who are nursed, benefit from support for these relationships. 

Sheffield City Council, with organisations in the city such as Infant Feeding Peer Support Service and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, have worked hard to remove breastfeeding barriers, resulting in receiving the BFI award. And this work has continued over the past few years, focusing on raising awareness around breastfeeding. These campaigns include normalising the image of breastfeeding, explaining the law around breastfeeding in public places and your legal right to do it and promoting the benefits of breastfeeding. They have also created a Breastfeeding Friendly Ambassador scheme and provide support across the city through health partners and online. 

The Breastfeeding Friendly Award scheme was also set up, accrediting almost 300  venues throughout the City. These public places agreed to support breastfeeding and offer a positive and welcoming environment to mums and their families. This award helps breastfeeding mums identify safe and welcoming places for them to feed their kids, and we’d like to see this number rise. You’ll even find some of ShefFood’s partners on the list of venues, including Bragazzis, Heeley City Farm and Marmadukes.

Why breastfeeding is important

So, why is all this promotion important? Breastfeeding is a fantastic way for babies to start their lives and is a key indicator of the health and well-being of children and families in Sheffield. Breastfeeding provides many nutritional and health benefits to a child, as well as some surprising social benefits.

Breastfed children are less likely to be absent from school and educational settings due to infectious diseases like gastroenteritis, respiratory infections, and middle ear infections, asthma and other allergies.  It can also make a difference in later developmental outcomes, including school attainment, interpersonal skills and mental health.  Plus, current evidence suggests that breastfeeding up to 12 months of age is associated with a decreased risk of tooth decay and obesity in later life. 

But, breastfeeding doesn’t just benefit baby, but mummy too. Breastfeeding develops a mother’s confidence in her physical and emotional capacities and leads to a higher rate of return to work and reduced parental absence.  Responsive breastfeeding helps a mum to become attuned to her child’s needs, which helps to establish a sense of security and attachment. Evidence also shows the importance of bonding and attachment, which breastfeeding can facilitate, on brain development. And research tells us that early attachments have a serious impact on later relationships in the lives of our children. And, because breastfeeding helps the health of both mum and baby, it contributes to significant savings for Public Health and the NHS long term.

Further support is needed

Of course, breastfeeding is not always as simple as it sounds. 80% of mums in Sheffield plan to breastfeed, but this drops to 50% in the first few weeks after birth. Even though breastfeeding is free, women living on low incomes or in deprived areas are the least likely to breastfeed.  Social and cultural factors, medical issues like tongue tie, difficulty latching, having to return to work too early, mental health and post-natal depression, sleep deprivation and limited community support can all be common factors in why women must stop breastfeeding but may not want to. I’m one of those mothers having to stop our breastfeeding journey after six weeks. 

While the benefits of breastfeeding are apparent, the mantra of ‘fed is best’ should be central here. Our children need nutrition, whether from the breast or bottle, and we all have a right to feed our babies when needed. So, I applaud and encourage the steps we’ve made as a city and hope to see even more venues sign up for the Breastfeeding Friendly Awards scheme and show your support for mums in Sheffield.