Last week, the not-for-profit Infant & Toddler Forum (ITF) has launched an educational programme on infant feeding for frontline healthcare professionals (HCPs) and early years providers working with parents and infants.
The programme, which includes a range of practical resources, was developed in response to new survey data indicating that almost a quarter of HCPs are not feeling confident supporting parents in core areas of infant feeding, and that both HCPs and parents are looking for more information in a variety of key areas in breast feeding and formula feeding.
ITF Chair Atul Singhal, Professor of Paediatric Nutrition at the UCL Institute of Child Health and Chair of the Infant and Toddler Forum, said: “Busy frontline healthcare professionals are struggling to find comprehensive and practical information on infant feeding to support parents’ choices. With these new training resources, we hope to provide a back-to-basics approach that gives frontline professionals the latest evidence in the field and the confidence to support parents.”
What frontline HCPs and parents told the ITF
In a survey of 151 midwives, healthcare visitors and GPs*, 22% indicated they were not very confident or not confident at all in providing support and information to parents on key areas of infant feeding and nutrition, including breast feeding initiation, breast feeding maintenance, expressing milk, formula feeding, differences between formulas, responsive feeding, combination feeding, and food allergies. The survey also revealed that 40% of HCPs could not receive the training they were looking for through their own organisation.
An additional survey of 506 UK parents with a child under 1 year of age revealed high levels of dissatisfaction with the support they received from HCPs in a variety of areas involving infant feeding. Only 15% of parents said they received adequate support in initiating breastfeeding, and only 19% said they received adequate support for breastfeeding maintenance.
Why understanding breast milk matters: The educational programme
After analysing the survey data, the ITF’s collective of experts in the field embarked on a review of current evidence on the composition of breast milk. This review, entitled “Why breast milk matters,” was published in the October issue of the British Journal of Midwifery and serves as the foundation for the educational programme on infant feeding.
The ITF educational programme aims to reenergise confidence by refreshing knowledge in the core elements of infant nutrition and feeding. The resources focus on the core question of why breast milk matters, and why understanding its composition can help healthcare professionals have a more confident and broader conversation about infant feeding and nutrition with both new and experienced parents. The resources include:
· Online training course: The free online course provides frontline healthcare professionals with a refresher session on the state of breastfeeding in the UK and information on breastmilk and formula milk composition. The course is available on demand, with CPD accreditation pending.
· ‘What’s in breast milk’ factsheet: This eight-page document outlines the composition of breastmilk and the health benefits of breastfeeding to mothers and their infants, with a page aimed at parents that can be copied and left with them.
· ‘What’s in formula milk’ factsheet: An eight-page document explains the components of formula milk and outlines different types of formula, with a page aimed at parents.
· Infographics: Visual representations of the ITF survey results show the need for better, updated training in infant feeding.
Melanie Pilcher, Quality and Standards Manager at the Early Years Alliance, said: “Parents should feel confident turning to their early years providers for advice about important topics such as infant feeding. In order for parents to have this confidence, early years professionals need information, advice and guidance to ensure they are well placed to help. This educational programme will be a welcome resource for early years professionals in the sector.”
The resources are freely available to access at https://infantandtoddlerforum.org/whybreastmilkmatters.
*The survey of 50 GPs, 51 Midwives, and 51 Health visitors and the survey of 506 parents in the UK who have a child under the age of 1, were created through the platform Censuswide. The online surveys both featured 10 questions on 11 areas of infant feeding and nutrition: Breast feeding maintenance, Differences between available formulas, Combination feeding, Weaning, Functional gastrointestinal disorders (e.g. Colic, regurgitation, constipation), Food allergies, Breast feeding initiation, Formula feed preparation, Responsive feeding, Expressing milk, and Formula feeding. The survey was carried out