6 months on…

Today marks 6 months since this campaign met with the commissioners at Blackpool Public Health, to warn them about the potential consequences of ending the breastfeeding support project in Blackpool, and to urge them to reconsider their decision.

In that time we have met with both of the Blackpool MPs, we have spoken at a meeting of the elected representatives of the council, our campaign has been discussed in the House of Commons, we have met with the leader of the Council and other council representatives, and we have had messages of support too numerous to count. Many positives.

However we have also heard and continue to hear many harrowing stories of families in Blackpool whose early feeding journeys have been blighted by the lack of available appropriate breastfeeding support. In our opinion this is not acceptable. And so we continue to work hard, behind the scenes, to ensure that all levels in the council understand what it is that Blackpool is currently missing.

We do not blog here about every single meeting or conversation because we have felt that movement from Blackpool Council was in a positive direction. However, it has now been six months since that first meeting, with our next meeting scheduled for the new year when it will have been a full seven months since the end of the breastfeeding support project, and still we seem no nearer to our objective of reinstating some kind of breastfeeding peer support programme for the families of this Town.

Today we have once again been told that in the Council’s opinion, Blackpool families do not want a breastfeeding peer support service, and so we ask that those of you reading this in Blackpool who would like to share your views on the subject, complete our form, here.

APPG Infant Feeding & Inequalities

The plight of the infant feeding support services in Blackpool was raised again at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Infant Feeding and Inequalities at the Houses of Parliament this week. It was first mentioned at the July meeting, and this prompted the visit in September from MP Alison Thewliss, and the offices of MPs Paul Maynard and Gordon Marsden, already reported here.

As this issue continues to be a concern at the highest levels, this campaign will continue to fight for an infant feeding specialist role in Blackpool, supported by a team of well trained and well supervised breastfeeding peer supporters.

As we have further updates to share, you will find them here!

Meeting with the Leader of the Council, 9th October

As requested by the Leader of Blackpool Council Simon Blackburn after resident Zoe Walsh’s representation to the Full Council meeting on Sept 20th, a meeting was arranged between this campaign and the council, including Public Health.

This meeting took place on Monday 9th October at Bickerstaffe House (pictured) and included a discussion of the points raised in the speech made on 20th September (which is included here with links to the evidence cited Council talk 20th Sept 2017 – annotated) as well as some finer details and larger discussions.

Following the meeting we have agreement to proceed with a request for the council’s scrutiny committee to look at the decision that was made leading to the ending of provision on June 30th.

We also have a commitment to look at how breastfeeding peer support and infant feeding strategy should look in Blackpool in the short and longer term, and have been invited back to discuss this further at a later date.

Definite progress!


If you would like to get in touch with the campaign to fight for appropriate breastfeeding support services in Blackpool, you can email blackpool@breastfeedingsupport.co.uk or contact us through our Facebook group.

Meeting Blackpool’s Councillors

Co-founder of the campaign Zoe Walsh, outside Blackpool Town Hall with her daughters. Zoe was herself a recipient of Star Buddy support after the birth of both of her daughters, and went on to train as a breastfeeding peer supporter herself.

On the 25th May 2017, around a month after hearing about Public Health Blackpool’s decision not to renew the funding for the Infant Feeding Lead and the Star Buddies Breastfeeding Peer Support programme (funded in various guises to this point for around 12 years), this campaign’s co-founder Zoe Walsh applied for a slot to present at a Blackpool Council meeting (to the elected representatives). We waited for a date to be sent to us, and enquired in June to find that we had been missed off the list and, because of the Extraordinary Meeting in July and the Summer Recess in August, would now not be able to present until the September Meeting, long after the Star Buddies project had been ended and the individuals working in the programme had been forced to move on with their lives and into other jobs, leaving Blackpool with no breastfeeding peer support service or infant feeding lead for the first time in 12 years.

We were told that this would be a 5 minute space to speak in, with no debate, and no discussion, simply a pre-written response read out at the end, but that it was the correct forum to raise this with the elected representatives of the council, who effectively control the council’s Public Health department.
In the council chambers there is a public gallery, and we let people know ahead of time via Facebook and this website that they could attend so that we could have that gallery filled with lots of faces of people nodding their approval of the speech.

We began to write a speech and soon found that 5 minutes is not nearly long enough to explain the ways that the Infant Feeding Project was previously meeting many of the requirements of the Council, and in order to squeeze the really vital material into the time, we had to miss out a lot of the statistics and the evidence base. We are planning to provide an annotated version of the speech, with links to the evidence, here in due course. If you just cannot wait, there is already some information about our case here.

On Wednesday 20th September, Zoe was finally able to make that presentation to the council, and the front row of the gallery was indeed filled with spectators nodding their approval of the speech. As it happens, the elected representatives were also pleased to hear the speech and Zoe was approached by a number of councillors after the meeting, offering contact details and asking for more information.

There’s a clip of the speech, and the council’s reaction to it, viewable on the council’s website from about 4m30s or via the clip we have put on youtube, below.

We are extremely pleased to report that, in spite of being told that a pre-written response would be read out by the Portfolio Holder for Health Cllr Amy Cross, actually the Leader of the Council, Cllr Simon Blackburn, stood at the end of Zoe’s talk to respond, saying

Ms Walsh has said a number of things that I don’t think we have taken sufficient account of, so rather than give the response that we had, I’d like to offer a meeting between this campaign and both Cllr Blackburn and Cllr Cross, as well as the Director of Public, who had come into the meeting just before it began and was there to hear the speech, and to later receive a printed copy of the petition we ran earlier in the year – now amounting to 54 printed A4 pages of signatures and comments! If you have not signed, please feel free.

We are in the process of finding  a mutually suitable date, as councillors and campaigners have actual jobs in addition to their community work! We will keep this page updated.

Tuesday 19th Sept – Meeting the MPs

Pictured R:L – Gill, from MP Gordon Marsden’s office; Kristie Legg, local mum, N Lancs Star Buddy and previous Blackpool Star Buddy; Liz Nuñez, local mum, previous Infant Feeding Lead and Peer Support Co-ordinator for Blackpool community; Zoe Walsh, local mum, Doula and campaign co-founder; local mum and mum-to-be Caroline; Alison Thewliss MP, chair of APPG IFI; Local mum of 2 Dani; Paul Maynard MP; Shel Banks, local mum, Infant Feeding Specialist and campaign co-founder; Loreto Iglesias, local mum, La Leche Leader and Chair of the Blackpool Maternity Matters group.

On Tuesday 19th Sept Blackpool was fortunate to host a visit from the Chair of the APPG for Infant Feeding and Inequalities, MP Alison Thewliss, who came down from Glasgow with her assistant Graeme to meet some Blackpool families with our Blackpool MPs.

Big thanks are due to Paul Maynard MP and his assistant Rob for attending, and to MP Gordon Marsden who, while unable to attend the meeting himself owing to commitments in Westminster, WAS able to send Gill from his office, who was great.

Two hours of discussion, lots of learning, hearing stories and other information about the infant feeding and peer support service over the past 10 years, and the loss of that service.

Here is a snapshot of the themes discussed at the meeting:

* awareness of this issue has reached Westminster and the Chair of APPG was sufficiently concerned to come and speak to local MPs and residents.

* the campaign has clear support from both Conservative and Labour MPs for Blackpool

* Blackpool mothers spoke about the difference it made, and how much they valued the service… One pregnant mum spoke about her concern that she will not have access to the support she so desperately needed and received last time

* there are no longer peer supporters for Blackpool families at the hospital, so that whilst North Lancashire still has hospital Star Buddies, and they aim to speak to all mums who need support on the ward, ultimately they are commissioned to support mums from Fylde and Wyre so priority now given by postcode

* the absence of an infant feeding lead for Blackpool now (commissioned with the peer support service) means there is no one for community staff to refer issues to, or to train the staff in breastfeeding OR formula feeding management, or to resolve issues around medications and breastfeeding, or unsafe preparation of powdered infant milk, or the rights of babies to be breastfed wherever they are, or the legal and social responsibilities of Blackpool businesses and employers to young families – no one tying the threads together to work for the  greater good of the population here.

* it was obvious from hearing the mothers speak that visits and contacts from peer supporters, and the availability of breastfeeding groups in the community, reduced much of the social isolation they felt in the early days , weeks and months of motherhood.

As the @APPGIFI Twitter feed said this evening, “Clear from the evidence we heard today that the peer support was about so much more than breastfeeding for the mums who used the service.”

Good to “talk together” as the poster says – but more action needed going forward.

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MP Alison Thewliss pictured here at Revoe School in the country’s most deprived ward, Bloomfield in Blackpool, after the meeting.

September updates – and ways to get involved!

We have two events coming up NEXT WEEK at which we would welcome the attendance some of you, and for you to share your support of!

Firstly, on the afternoon of 19th September, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Infant Feeding and Inequalities MP Alison Thewliss, is coming to Blackpool, to meet with Blackpool MP Paul Maynard, and hopefully also Blackpool MP Gordon Marsden – although at time of writing we have not received his commitment to attend – to discuss the loss of breastfeeding peer support and the infant feeding project in the town.

This will be at Revoe Children’s Centre, Grasmere Rd, Blackpool FY1 5HP between 2 and 4pm on Tuesday 19th, and all Blackpool residents, particularly families affected by this loss, then please join us – and it would be good if you could let us know you are attending, below – thank you.

If you are a Blackpool South resident, ie if Gordon Marsden is your MP, it would be great if you could contact him to ask him to attend the event so we can have full cross-party discussion of the issues with accessing breastfeeding support for Blackpool residents.

Secondly, Zoe Walsh Doula will be addressing the elected representatives of Blackpool at a full Council meeting at the Town Hall, from 6pm this coming Wednesday, 20 September. She will give a five minute speech about the loss of the breastfeeding peer support service in Blackpool. There will be no debate, and no discussion, however there is a public gallery, and it would be wonderful to have that gallery filled with lots of faces of people nodding their approval of the speech. If you would like to attend this please get in touch – we will be meeting outside the Town Hall at about 5.30/ 5.45pm and all are welcome, to show support.

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World Breastfeeding Week Event at Blackpool Hospital

Families gathered at Blackpool Victoria Hospital to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week and take part in an annual international event called the ‘Global Big Latch On’.

The hospital’s event was intended to bring together some of the supporters of breastfeeding in the town and to raise awareness of breastfeeding, encourage the formation of support networks and normalise breastfeeding as a part of daily life.

The Blackpool mums who breastfed their babies at the event on Friday, August 4, were part of a total of 17,790 across the globe this year.

The theme for this year’s World Breastfeeding Week (from August 1 to 7) was ‘sustaining breastfeeding together’ – which is a key message here on the Fylde coast as well as globally.

The event was organised by Infant Feeding Co-ordinator, Dawn Burrows and Baby Friendly Co-ordinator, Shel Banks, who are based at the hospital and work for Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Dawn and Shel welcomed back some families who had been in the hospital’s Neonatal Unit and others who had had their babies at the Fylde Coast Birth Centre as well as in the hospital’ Delivery Suite. Mums chatted and connections were made.

Shelley Watson, mum to twins Felicity and Scarlett, attended the event with her sister, Heather Parkinson.

Shelley said: “It’s brilliant that they are having this event at the hospital because Blackpool’s breastfeeding rates aren’t great.

“Felicity and Scarlett were premature so I didn’t get to hold them for a couple of weeks and it was so hard.

“When I was first able to breastfeed them I cried and cried. It was that connection I had been missing. I felt like a mum at last.

“They were in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital when they were first born and then they went to Blackpool for a couple of weeks before returning home. They’re 15-and-a-half months old now.”

Shelley said she is now training to be a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter with the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM).

She added: “Breast milk is great because it’s free and it’s absolutely the best thing for your baby – both mentally and physically.”

Danielle Camm, a health visitor from Blackpool who works for the Trust, said: “This event is really good. It’s so important that we can support each other.

“It’s a woman’s right and a child’s right by law to be able to breastfeed.

“If you come from a family where there wasn’t breastfeeding, you need that support. Even as a heath professional, I have found it hard to do.

“The first few days you think, ‘why and I doing this?’ If you have support around you it makes it a bit easier and you can vent off to someone. Breastfeeding is great because it helps the baby’s brain to develop. If your baby is ill, you take on the germs and your body creates antibodies which help your child to fight infection.

“I’m not against formula. If it’s right for you and your family, that’s fine. However, if you want to breastfeed, you need support.”

Head of Maternity and Gynaecology Services Shelley Piper said “It was fabulous to see such a great turn out supporting such a worthwhile event. The Families Division is passionate about encouraging breastfeeding as it is so important for the health and wellbeing of our families on the Fylde Coast.

Zoe Walsh, a Doula (a non-medical person who assists a person before, during, or after childbirth) and trainee ABM Breastfeeding Counsellor from Blackpool, said: “It’s good that the event has taken place here, especially in an area like Blackpool where breastfeeding rates are quite low.

“It’s a positive thing to have mums who are breastfeeding together and to find some sense of community and support.

“Being a mum can be quite isolating, so having opportunities like this to meet other like-minded mums and to share tips is really positive.”

Zoe said breastfeeding was the biological norm for babies as that was what their bodies were primed for.

She explained: “For those of us working in the breastfeeding world, we know that not breastfeeding is a risk.

“Breastfeeding protects the baby and mum against illness. It builds bonds and helps the baby to form positive relationships.

“Some people see formula as the norm but for a woman to be physically unable to breastfeed is very, very rare.”

The families were also joined after the Big Latch On had taken place, by Head of Service for the Families Division, Pauline Tschobotko, who chatted with participants and thanked everyone for attending.

Recognition and Celebration Event, 21st July

Blackpool Victoria Hospital’s Women and Children’s Division hosted an event this week to say Thank You to some of the many Star Buddies who have formed part of the Breastfeeding Peer Support Scheme in Blackpool over the past decade.

All breastfeeding peer supporters who have worked in Blackpool  as Star Buddies were invited to the event on Friday morning at the hospital, however owing to work and family commitments not everyone was able to make it.

Pauline Tschobotko who is Head of Service in the Women and Children’s Division, and Nicola Parry who is Head of Midwifery, really wanted to celebrate all that had been achieved during the hospital’s decade of partnership with the  voluntary sector breastfeeding support initiative, and to recognise and thank the individuals who provided that support.

Pauline joined Blackpool Hospitals as Head of Midwifery just over 10 years ago and relayed that when she began in post and asked about what was available locally to support breastfeeding, she was told that ‘Blackpool women don’t breastfeed’; she then began to work for the hospital with local partners on providing  more robust training for the maternity and neonatal staff, and in providing better information and support for families around breastfeeding and relationship building, through first of all the breastfeeding peer support service, and then the Baby Friendly Initiative Accreditation of the hospital.

After Nicola Parry and Pauline Tschobotko had addressed the attendees, Blackpool Hospitals Infant Feeding Co-ordinator Dawn Burrows provided each of them with a certificate of appreciation – so those of you who were not able to make it, please get in touch with your address and we will send it out to you by post!

After presentations had been made of the certificates, our now ex-Community Infant Feeding Lead and previous Community Peer Support Lead Liz Nunez took the opportunity to thank Pauline and Nicola for their kind words, and importantly to thank the hospital for its valuable recognition, and for the opportunity to come together and celebrate the achievements of the team.

It was a lovely opportunity for some of the ex-colleagues to catch up, and we heard about some of the jobs that those who were made redundant in June have been able to secure since – the project really did build the social capital we had always hoped it would, and provided some of these amazing women with the stepping stone into a new and exciting career going forward.

Although Blackpool’s existing breastfeeding peer support programme is now gone, and with it the staff who had in many cases been with it since the beginning and who have now moved on to new career adventures, the fight to secure breastfeeding peer support for Blackpool families going forward has not ended. We will continue to work towards raising awareness of the need for the service, and on rebuilding the local expertise so that soon we will be able to provide a service to support families to provide the very best start possible for the most vulnerable in our population – our babies.

The end of an era

Blackpool Hospital Star Buddies 30/06

Friday 30th June marked the end of the 10 year breastfeeding peer support project in Blackpool. While this was undeniably a very sad day for those losing their jobs, and for all those whose colleagues are leaving their posts, there was still a sense of celebration in the air for all that has been achieved for the families of Blackpool in that decade.

There was a a little gathering in the hospital, and another in the community, where kind words were spoken and gifts exchanged:

1000’s of families reached, many stories shared on this website. Support given without judgement, information given with kindness, choices facilitated with empathy.  The Star Buddies came in with passion, and can leave their jobs with their heads held high.

Pictured above are the four hospital Star Buddies leaving their Blackpool jobs, plus Dawn Burrows (Hospital Infant Feeding Co-ordinator), Shel Banks (Hospital Baby Friendly Co-ordinator),  Alison Leyland (Specialist Midwife for Diabetes) and Janet Danson-Smith (Patient Experience Lead for the hospital’s Families Division).

There will be a celebration and recognition event later in July for all Blackpool Star Buddies, anyone who wore the classic lime green t-shirts over the past 10 years!

In other news, while the project in its previous form has ended, we here at Blackpool Breastfeeding Support still very much continue the fight to have Breastfeeding Peer Support in some form in our Town.

If you would like to help behind the scenes with this fight, then please get in touch.