Why Understanding Breast Milk Matters: The launch of new educational resources

By Lucy Upton, on behalf of the Infant and Toddler Forum

On behalf of the members of the Infant and Toddler Forum, I am proud to announce the launch of a new infant feeding educational programme, which includes practical resources for frontline healthcare professionals (HCPs) working with parents and infants.

The resources were developed in response to new survey data (see our recent blog), which indicated that both HCPs and parents are looking for more information on a variety of key areas in breast feeding and formula feeding. The survey highlighted that 22% of HCPs are not feeling confident supporting parents in core areas of infant feeding.

The results told us there was a gap to be filled, and the first step was to review the existing literature. The resulting review, authored by the ITF and entitled “Why Breast Milk Matters”, was published in the October 2023 issue of the British Journal of Midwifery.

We believe the new training resources, developed and based upon the findings in our literature review, provide a back-to-basics approach that gives frontline professionals the latest evidence in the field and the confidence to support parents. The resources, include:

  • Online training course: A free online course that provides frontline healthcare professionals with a refresher session on breastfeeding in the UK and information on breastmilk and formula milk composition. The course is freely available on demand and provides Continuing Professional Development (CPD) accreditation.
  • What’s in breast milk: A factsheet on the composition of breastmilk and the health benefits of breastfeeding to mothers and their infants, with a page aimed at parents that can be copied and left with them.
  • What’s in formula milk: A factsheet on the components of formula milk and how they each benefit infants. It also contains information on different types of formula milk. The resource also includes a page aimed at parents that can be copied and left with them.
  • Infographic: A visual representation of the ITF’s survey results from HCPs and parents showing the need for better, updated training in infant feeding.

Training matters

Healthcare professionals have to contend with huge challenges: a rise in childhood obesity and diabetes, lingering anxieties from the pandemic, and growing concerns around allergies, to name just a few. And of course, safeguarding issues are always a top concern when supporting families. We know time and resources are stretched thin when it comes to postnatal and breastfeeding services.

At the same time, our latest survey revealed that frontline healthcare professionals are finding it harder to access the training they want in a variety of areas involving infant feeding.

This lack of time, resources and training certainly do not bode well for improving the UK’s breastfeeding rates. Despite decades of government-backed initiatives to support and encourage mothers to breastfeed, the UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. Only about 72% of babies born in the UK are breastfed within 48 hours of birth, and only 1 in 100 babies are exclusively breastfed until six months.

What is missing from the conversation is the deeper understanding of why breast milk matters.

Most professionals can recite the many benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and infant, but what is less fully appreciated is the WHY. What is it about the composition of breast milk that links breastfed infants to a huge range of well-documented benefits later in life, including higher test scores on GCSE exams and lowered incidences of diabetes?

The biochemical and physiological reasons for the superiority of breast milk are less well understood, in part because the composition of breast milk is extraordinarily complex.

With over 300 known components, we’ll probably never fully understand the role all the components play. But deepening our understanding can help HCPs develop confidence to have more open conversations about infant feeding and nutrition with both new and more experienced parents, whatever their chosen method of feeding.

We hope these free resources will be shared far and wide. We encourage all frontline HCPs working with parents of infants to download the factsheets, watch the online webinar, and use the insights to refresh their knowledge and develop a greater awareness and understanding of the mechanisms behind the benefits of breastfeeding.

In time, we hope it will give midwives, health visitors, GPs and other professionals supporting new families greater confidence to have more informed discussions with parents and potentially contribute to improving the UK’s disappointing breastfeeding rates.



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