SNP MP encouraged by increased breastfeeding rates

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, and chair of the APPG on Infant Feeding and Inequalities, has commended the results of a recent Scottish Government survey into breastfeeding rates and infant nutrition.

The Scottish Maternal and Infant Nutrition Survey was conducted in the first half of 2017 and invited responses from hundreds of women, including expectant mothers, those whose babies were between 8-12 weeks old, and those whose babies were 8-12 months old. The questionnaire focussed on maternal nutrition, breastfeeding, infant feeding and related health behaviours.

The survey pointed to progress being made in many areas, with 43% of mothers now continuing to breastfeed up to six months after birth, compared with 32% in 2010. In addition, it spoke to an increase in the overall duration of breastfeeding.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“It is greatly encouraging to see an uplift in the number of mothers who are breastfeeding for longer, and I am delighted that this increase is a significant one. It’s important to recognise the work going on in hospitals and local areas by both health professionals and volunteer peer supporters, as this couldn’t be achieved without their incredible efforts.

“The Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative standards recommend that, in order to maximise health outcomes for children, breastfeeding should be promoted exclusively for the first six months. In that sense, it’s terrific to see so many women in Scotland maximising breastmilk and introducing solid foods later.

“I know there is still a lot of work to be done in this area. Whilst help and information is given to mothers to promote and assist with breastfeeding, the survey results show the main reasons for breastfeeding ceasing early is due to concerns around feeding problems, and also finding feeding too difficult. It’s therefore crucial that health professionals continue to provide and develop ongoing support.

“Studies such as this are fundamental, as they provide an evidence base on which more informed policy decisions can be made, in this case to help design and implement better advice and support for families. It’s crucial that the UK Government do the same, in order to improve health outcomes across the country”.

SNP MP calls for more guidance on breastmilk sharing

Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, has urged the UK Government to offer guidance on milk sharing – a practice that thousands of women are already participating in through online networks across the country.

Milk sharing has become an increasingly popular method for mothers to get access to breastmilk for their babies, particularly amongst those who have encountered difficulties when breastfeeding.

The sharing of breastmilk online is unregulated and some experts are concerned that without NHS supervision or Government guidance, there is a chance that the practice could spread infection and viruses.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“There is a growing recognition of the unique qualities of breastmilk, and the growth of milk sharing online is to some degree a symptom of this. It is important that milk donors are following best practice to ensure breastmilk is free from any contaminants, but this will always have a degree of uncertainty when people are sharing milk online.

“Milk banks provide safe and rigorously screened donor breastmilk for those babies who need it. The model used by One Milk Bank for Scotland ensures that breastmilk can be collected from donors, processed and distributed using a well-developed network, and I would like to see this available across the rest of the UK. At the moment, milk banks are often underfunded and running as a project of individual hospitals.

“This also sits in the context of cuts to breastfeeding support projects – Unicef Baby Friendly highlighted recently that local infant feeding leads in England had reported a 47% cut in support groups, and a 58% cut in health visitors. Women who wish to breastfeed can find themselves without the valuable support and expertise they need, and may turn to online donors as an alternative to their own milk.

“I am keen for the UK Government to work with the UK Association of Milk Banks to invest in services to allow those wishing to donate breastmilk to be able to do so locally, in a safe and regulated way, and for those requiring breastmilk for their babies to be able to access it easily. I have asked to meet with Ministers to discuss how breastmilk can be shared safely.”

Westminster inquiry into infant feeding policy

An inquiry into infant feeding policy has been launched by a parliamentary group of MPs in Westminster.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Infant Feeding & Inequalities today opened the call for evidence on its wide-ranging inquiry into infant feeding policy. As well as focussing on the challenges around bottle feeding, the inquiry will examine why the UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.

The inquiry which, upon conclusion, will make recommendations to policy makers and Government also plans to hold oral evidence hearings in all four nations of the United Kingdom.

The terms of reference for the inquiry include:

• Exploring both the positive and negative aspects of breastfeeding support currently in place in the NHS and voluntary sector
• Exploring the impact of current gaps in service provision for advice of breastfeeding and bottle feeding
• Establishing the extent of UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative accreditation
• Collating data on breastfeeding rates and staff support roles in all NHS authorities
• Conducting an audit of infant feeding data retention levels in each of the Governments of the four nations of the UK
• Examining current service provision for phone/online breastfeeding advice services

Speaking after launching the inquiry in London’s Parliament Square, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“For too long, infant feeding policy has been at the bottom of Ministers and civil servants’ in trays. This was demonstrated recently when the Government’s obesity strategy didn’t even reference infant feeding, despite it being a factor in future health.

“The UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, even though we know more mums would wish to breastfeed; there’s clearly an issue which needs to be addressed. In addition, feedback on my recent Formula Marketing Bill suggests there’s a real lack of impartial information and support available for those bottle feeding and I would welcome views on this.

“With ever increasing cuts to budgets, it’s been suggested that peer support funding for breastfeeding has been disproportionately slashed, so we’re also keen to look into this more and identify the gaps in service provision. Equally, though, there are a number of groups out there – albeit under pressure – doing some really innovative things to try and support families and babies.

“In taking this inquiry out of Westminster and holding evidence sessions around the UK, I am very much looking forward to hearing people’s views and collating them into a substantive report for the Government to implement.”

The deadline for written submissions to the inquiry is 9am on Monday 12th June 2017. More information is available through the APPG’s website.

MP sets goal to make football grounds breastfeeding friendly

A Member of Parliament has launched a campaign to request that all football clubs in Scotland consider declaring their stadiums as being breastfeeding friendly.

Alison Thewliss MP’s bid to secure the status for all forty-two football grounds in Scotland was sparked by the efforts of Championship side, Ayr United, which recently declared Somerset Park as being a breastfeeding friendly ground.

Thewliss – herself a lifelong Motherwell fan – has written to every football club in Scotland, encouraging them to follow in Ayr United’s footsteps. Over half of all clubs have already responded and taken up the initiative by declaring their grounds as breastfeeding friendly. Breastfeeding in public places has been a legally protected right in Scotland since 2005, following the introduction of the Breastfeeding, etc. (Scotland) Act by Labour MSP, Elaine Smith.

Speaking of her campaign, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“The 2005 Breastfeeding Act specifically makes it an offence to stop a mother or child from breastfeeding in public and that is a hugely welcome protection. What gives further reassurance to breastfeeding mums is for as many places as possible to be pro-active and declare themselves “breastfeeding friendly”.

“Football crowds have changed a lot over the years and stadiums are becoming a much more family friendly environment. The vast majority of clubs understand the need to build future generations of fans.

“I’ve been going to Fir Park with my family and supporting Motherwell for over 20 years. Once I became a mum, I took the decision to take my son to the Europa League game against Aalesund when he was a month old. I was a bit nervous about doing so, but was very much supported by my family and neighbouring fans. I’ve had a positive experience at Scotland games too, and I would encourage all clubs to play their part.

“By making a positive declaration that stadiums are breastfeeding friendly, this will go some way to letting people know that breastfeeding is normal and need not be a taboo issue.

“With the exception of one or two clubs, the initial response from the majority of Scottish football clubs has been absolutely fantastic and it’s encouraging that so many folk are uniting to make Scottish football a breastfeeding friendly environment”.

Bill published to crack down on formula milk promotion

A new Bill has been published today (Tuesday 21st February) which will tackle the “excessive and misleading marketing techniques” deployed by infant formula milk companies.

The proposed law, which is due for second reading in Parliament later this week, has been welcomed by health professionals, parents and campaigning groups – including Unicef Baby Friendly.

The new legislation, drafted by Glasgow Central MP Alison Thewliss, will:

– Introduce plain packaging for all formula milks;
– Establish a body, totally independent of industry, to test all products and verify the claims of manufacturers prior to them being licensed for sale;
– Ban the use of misleading terms such as “follow-on” or “growing-up” formula milks;
– Stop companies from circumventing existing laws by introducing a ban on identical packaging for stage two and subsequent products;
– Prohibit formula companies from advertising in health journals and magazines;
– Bring forward tougher penalties for companies who flout the legislation, including greater financial fines and prison sentences for company CEOs;
– Ban advertising of formula milks on TV, social media, the internet and through parenting clubs.

Alison Thewliss MP – who chairs the UK Parliament’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding & Inequalities – said:

The Bill I have published today is a major step forward in tackling the excessive and misleading marketing techniques deployed by formula milk companies.

“For too long, these enormously powerful multi-nationals have been pushing the boundaries and circumventing existing legislation to relentlessly promote their products to parents and families. The more we see new aggressive marketing techniques, the more we see ever higher prices for formula milk, which is borne by the consumer.

“I absolutely understand and respect that some families will choose to use formula milk; this is absolutely not about breastfeeding versus bottle feeding. I want to make sure parents are protected from misleading advertising and can access impartial, trusted information when making feeding decisions for their children. The consultation I carried out demonstrated that many parents are making decisions based on marketing alone, which is deeply worrying.

“There have been examples of products being recalled or discontinued after they make it to the shelves, for example for being found to have excessive protein. Other concerns include the introduction of prebiotics, which may not be necessary. Without an independent agency to test these products and verify the claims being made by companies, we have a situation of self-policing which simply isn’t working.

“Under the current arrangement, formula companies are also banned from advertising formula milks for new babies but they simply get around this by branding their products almost identically, with packaging showing stages 1, 2, 3. “Follow-on” or “growing up” milks look the same as their baby milks, so parents are led to assume there is a progression. The reality is that there is generally no need for formula after the age of one. This loophole is costing families dear, with most formulas costing around £10 per packet.

“For too long, formula companies have been running roughshod over the 2007 legislation which is no longer fit for purpose. In addition, the consumer has been picking up the cost for an ever increasing marketing war – this Bill will go some way to ending this and ensuring that parents are free from commercial influence and pressure when making choices about how they feed their children”.

Response to Formula Marketing Bill consultation published

A Member of Parliament seeking to tighten up the law around advertising of formula milk has published the results of a recent consultation on her proposed Feeding Products for Babies & Children (Advertising & Promotion) Bill.

SNP MP Alison Thewliss was given unanimous approval by MPs in November to press ahead and draft a new law which would curtail the “excessive marketing techniques” employed by the formula industry.

The Glasgow MP’s consultation ran from 5th December 2016 until 9th January 2017. She received 332 consultation responses, including from health professionals, parents and the representatives of the formula industry itself.

Commenting after publishing the consultation response document, Ms Thewliss said:

“I am incredibly grateful to everyone who took the time to submit their thoughts and ideas around my proposed Bill. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the immense expertise and passion coming through in all of the responses. These have been invaluable in forming my thoughts on what to include in the Bill itself.

“Understandably there have been a great many suggestions to include certain policies in the Bill, not all of which can be included in this particular piece of legislation. I want to make explicitly clear that this Bill is about making sure parents are equipped with impartial, trusted information to make informed choices about how and what they feed their children.

“Tomorrow I will be meeting with parliamentary draftsmen to start writing the Bill, which will be published shortly.

“I look forward to publishing the Bill and seeking the Government’s support in the next few weeks.”

Consultation on formula promotion bill

Alison Thewliss MP sitting at her desk in Parliament

An MP campaigning to tighten up the law surrounding the marketing of formula milk has opened a consultation for consumers, campaigners and health professionals.

Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, was recently given leave of the House of Commons to bring forward her Feeding Products for Babies and Children (Advertising and Promotion) Bill. Now the MP is asking interested parties to submit thoughts and proposals for consideration before 9am on Monday 9th January 2017. After that she will move to drafting the Bill, which will be published early in the new year.

The Bill seeks to make provision for the control of advertising and promotion of feeding products for babies and children. The MP intends for the Bill to establish a body – completely independent of industry – which would regularly safety test formula milks and other infant feeding products, and potentially adjudicate on the veracity of claims made by companies as to the ingredients and nutritional value of such products. The Bill aims also to include provision for stiffer financial penalties for formula companies which publish scientifically inaccurate and misleading claims.

Those interested in responding to the consultation are asked to fill out a short consultation form.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“I have been overwhelmed by the support and good wishes of so many people who have a wealth of knowledge around infant feeding. I would encourage as many people as possible to visit my website, fill out the consultation form, and let me know their thoughts as to what might potentially be helpful to include in the Bill.

“Taking a Ten Minute Rule Bill all the way through to being put on the statute books is a tall order, so I am keen to give the Bill the best possible chance of success. I am conscious that if the Bill is drafted sensibly and pragmatic enough, then there’s every chance that the Government might consider adopting it.”

Formula marketing law clears first Commons hurdle

Alison Thewliss MP sitting at her desk in Parliament

A new law to tighten up advertising of formula milk has cleared its first Commons hurdle today. MPs gave their unanimous backing to SNP MP Alison Thewliss to push ahead with her Feeding Products for Babies and Children (Advertising and Promotion) Bill, which she says will “better support all parents in the infant feeding choices they make for their children”.

The Scottish MP, who chairs Westminster’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding & Inequalities, has already secured cross-party support from MPs in the Conservatives and Labour as well as other parties in the UK Parliament. She will now take her Bill forward for second reading in Parliament in February.

Speaking from Westminster after MPs unanimously backed her bid to change the law, Alison Thewliss MP commented:

“Securing Parliamentary approval to introduce my Bill is a big step forward. I hope it will be the first step to give better support to all parents in the infant feeding choices they make for their children.

“Whether parents decide to breastfeed or bottle feed is entirely a matter for them, and I very much respect the choices families make. This is not a debate about breastfeeding versus formula milk.

“I believe it is vitally important that parents get accurate and impartial information on the contents of formula milk and the best way to prepare it safely. At present there is a worrying lack of independent scrutiny of infant and young child formula, as well as growing frustration about the industry marketing tricks and misleading claims being pushed on parents and health professionals alike.

“Misinformation on health policy never ends well and this Bill aims to seriously tighten up the behaviour of the formula industry.

“I look forward to using the coming months to consult on the contents of the Bill. I will continue working with MPs across the House to convince the Government that this should be put on the statute books to safeguard the health and wellbeing of babies and young children.”

Law to tighten marketing of formula milk

Alison Thewliss MP sitting at her desk in Parliament

A cross-party group of MPs at Westminster will today [Wednesday] start the legislative process to introduce a new law, which will tighten up the marketing of formula milks and other infant feeding products.

Alison Thewliss MP, who is leading with the proposal, will today seek approval from the House of Commons to go ahead and draft the bill, making way for it to be given a second reading in Parliament.

The legislative proposal has strong cross-party backing, including from influential Conservative MP and chair of the Commons Health Select Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston.

Speaking in advance of today’s proceedings in the Commons, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“I understand there is a genuine and sincere requirement for infant formula milk for mothers who can’t or indeed don’t wish to breastfeed, and any number of circumstances which lead parents and carers to choose formula. I come to this debate with absolutely no judgement or attempt to tell other parents how to feed their children.

“I believe it is vitally important that parents get accurate information on the contents of formula milk, and the best way to prepare it safely. At present there is a worrying lack of independent scrutiny of infant and young child formula, as well as growing frustration about the industry marketing tricks and misleading claims being pushed on parents and health professionals alike.

“Misinformation on health policy never ends well and I believe this requires an urgent change in the law, to seriously tighten up the behaviour of some companies.

“Currently, a loophole allows for misleading and scientifically questionable claims to be printed in reputable and highly respected medical and nursing journals. This is an untenable position and the legislation I am proposing will tackle this issue head on.

“My bill would also mean that the UK fully implements the international Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, which has been called for in numerous reports.

“I am hopeful that the House of Commons approves permission to formally introduce the bill today and let it have a second reading in Parliament.”

Breastfeeding Conference

19115 - Unicef breastfeeding Conference (1)This week I attended the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative Annual Conference. I enjoyed meeting with various organisations who do excellent work to promote breastfeeding. I am currently working on setting up an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding and Inequalities and I look forward to working more closely with some of the organisations I have met at the UNICEF Conference over the coming weeks and months.