Wigan breastfeeding contract ends in major shake-up of baby services

Town hall bosses have announced a shake-up of services to support new parents and babies in the borough.

Friday, 7th February 2020, 11:51 am
Updated Friday, 7th February 2020, 11:52 am
Professor Kate Ardern

Wigan Council will not renew its contract with Breastfeeding Together when it ends in March.

Instead, families will be offered a wider range of help through the council’s Start Well scheme.

This “holistic” approach will include help with breastfeeding and other forms of feeding, but also include other important areas such as sleeping and toilet training. The changes are being made after the council consulted with parents, many of whom said they felt quite isolated if they chose not to breastfeed and there was no equivalent support on offer for them.

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Prof Kate Ardern, the council’s director of public health, said: “It’s a really innovative model and one that we will be working with organisations to evaluate because it’s a whole person approach. I think it could be very exciting going forward.

“I think in terms of tackling some of our stubborn inequalities, we have to start thinking differently and start listening to what parents say to us.

“We are trying to respond to parents’ own ideas, their own concerns and make sure our services reflect that and make the changes that they are posing to us, but also give them some agency and control over this.”

The council is keen to help children in the first 1,000 days of life, after the importance of that period was highlighted in a 2010 report, and it is a key part of The Deal 2030. Despite the work of Breastfeeding Together, initial breastfeeding take-up rates in the borough rose from just 52 per cent in 2011 to 54 per cent in 2018.

And the proportion of women still breastfeeding at six to eight weeks has stalled at 28 per cent since 2015.

Town hall bosses also realised parents who chose to feed their baby in another way, or did not want help from the charity, often received no support at all.

Prof Ardern said: “In terms of things like breastfeeding, we have a great offer for the 20-odd per cent who do breastfeed, but everyone else gets nothing.

“This is about making sure every single child, however they are being fed, gets a really good holistic service to support them and their family.”

Work is being done with health services to integrate care for families and the shake-up will also see a “big digital offer”.

It is hoped the new model will provide a support network for parents and help them on a wide range of matters.

In future, it will be a council worker, rather than someone from Breastfeeding Together, that contacts parents to offer support.

While the council has decided not to renew its contract with the charity, it is hoped it could still be involved in the new services.

Breastfeeding will no longer be the primary focus of the support available, but it will remain one factor.

Prof Ardern said: “Breastfeeding is only one indicator. It’s important and I would be the last person to say breastfeeding isn’t a very important part of starting well, because it is, but it isn’t the only part.

“What we have to do is create a support environment around families that makes sure every child, however they are fed, gets the best start.

“If people then decide they want to breastfeed more, we have the right support mechanism for them to do that, but it is a choice and it is important to remember that. What we should be doing to support people is making the choice that’s right for them.”