Around 25 mums brought their babies and children to County Hall on Thursday (8 Feb 2018) in support of keeping specialist breastfeeding services in the county. A petition of nearly 5,000 signatures triggered a special debate on Kent County Council plans to reorganise Infant Feeding Services. Protesters pointed out that UK rates of breastfeeding are amongst the lowest in the world, and Kent's rate is below the national average.
Liberal Democrat councillor Trudy Dean said KCC should be shouting the health benefits that breastfeeding brings to both baby and mother from the rooftops (see footnote below). Kent needs a universal service, and it needs to be comparable to the best in the country.
Tory-controlled KCC intends to transfer the 'Infant Feeding Service' to Health Visitors. However, petitioners fear the loss of specialist Lactation Consultants, who are able to help new mums having more complex problems with feeding their babies, will be bad for mums and babies.
Trudy said the Liberal Democrats want greater clarity on exactly how many clinic sessions will be offered, the qualifications of staff running them, and evidence that hard-pressed Health Visitors have the time to take on these services on top of their current workload. She also called for a Kent based out of hours service run by medical staff with access to patient records.
Lib Dem colleague George Koowaree called for no decision to be made until this additional information was available to the committee members and petitioners. However, the 9 Conservative councillors on the committee refused to delay their plans.
The Conservative Chair of the Committee allowed only two petitioners to speak for a total of five minutes, despite the meeting lasting nearly two hours. So it was no surprise that angry families refused the suggestion that KCC should photograph them with councillors.
After the meeting Trudy said "The petitioners should be proud that their work has already resulted in a number of improvements to the planned KCC service. The aim of the changes to reach more mums and increase breastfeeding rates is right.
"But after six months in preparation it is still unclear exactly how the new service will be provided. Without answers to these concerns, people are right to question whether it will work.
"It is a great shame that once again Kent Conservatives' treatment of petitioners was to oppose them, rather than welcome their experience and enthusiasm for the breastfeeding service to be the best it can be."
The benefits of breastfeeding to the health, both short and long term, of the child and mother are clear. For the baby, breastfeeding brings early resistance to infection, fewer cases of Infant Sudden Death, childhood leukaemia, obesity, and cardio vascular problems, and possibly better speed of learning.
For Mums the immediate benefit is a faster return to pre-pregnancy weight, and internal organs shrinking to normal size together with reduced long term incidence of breast and ovarian cancer.