How can we empower young mums from disadvantaged communities across the UK to breastfeed their babies?

Our team was commissioned to develop approaches to increase breastfeeding initiation amongst 18–24-year-old women living in disadvantaged communities. Initially commissioned by a partnership of 3 PCTs, this programme has since been adopted in 17 other localities.

Social norms

In-depth research with audience groups revealed that the main barriers preventing young women from breastfeeding were related to adverse community norms, not a lack of knowledge in relation to health benefits, as previously assumed. Negative attitudes from parents, peers, partners and the wider public perpetuated a culture of bottle-feeding and created a sense that breastfeeding is ‘not what we do’.

Community activation

Using a high-profile, through-the-line communications campaign featuring real, breastfeeding mothers from our priority communities, we re-branded breastfeeding as an expression of pride, independence and strength. Through online social networks and grass-roots community and peer groups it was possible to create a self-sustaining support community around this new understanding of breastfeeding. A new motivation, combined with the right support, gave young mothers the confidence to breastfeed in the face of adverse community norms.

Results

  • 13% increase in initiation over first 6 months and 9% increase sustained over 12 months against a 2% target (Central Lancashire)
  • Increased efficiencies and cohesion in delivery of breastfeeding services
  • Mobilisation of internal staff through increased morale and aspiration
  • Recognition as international best practice and receipt of a wide range of industry awards

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