Published Thu, 2011-03-31 18:03; updated 4 years ago.

Sandwell has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the country with only half of new mums breastfeeding their babies from birth.

But a pioneering peer-support scheme in the borough has upped the figure to 92 per cent among a group of mothers.

Sandwell Breastfeeding Network (BfN) offered their support services to about 650 pregnant women and new mums. With that extra bit of help, about 50 per cent were still feeding their babies after six to eight weeks - when the borough average had slumped to about 20 per cent.

Lesley Backhouse, project lead with the peer-support programme, says the scheme – which launched last May and runs until the end of March – provides mums with information and encouragement from women who have gone through the same experiences.

"The project is about mother-to-mother support," she explains. "We train mothers who have breastfed their babies to give information and support to mums-to-be and new mothers.

"Peer support can help a mum initiate breastfeeding because she is getting information from another mother about how to do it. Breastfeeding should be comfortable and not painful. It's the training volunteers are given that makes the difference to how they can help other mums – they are able to help without disempowering a mother. They are giving information rather than advice. So, for example, they can identify good positioning and how to avoid getting cracked nipples."

The £50,000 scheme, the first large BfN project in the West Midlands, has also moved into Walsall, Wolverhampton and Dudley, has so far trained 20 women and will train another 10 over the next few weeks. These volunteers pass on their knowledge and experience to expectant and new mums at antenatal classes and at drop-in breastfeeding centres.

Listening skills

"They are also trained in listening skills, so they can listen to what a mother wants to do. Not every mum wants to breastfeed," says Lesley. "Sandwell has a very low breastfeeding rate – it's in the bottom five per cent in the country."

Nationally, the breastfeeding initiation rate is 73.5 per cent, while the prevalence of breastfeeding at six-eight weeks stands at 44.9 per cent.

"In Sandwell, 50 per cent start breastfeeding, but by six weeks the figure is down to about 20 per cent. In some wards it's as low as 15 per cent. In the Heart of Birmingham, breastfeeding rates are double those of Sandwell."

One reason for the low rates in Sandwell is a lack of family support for breastfeeding, even though it gives babies all the nutrients they need for the first six months and protection from a range of illnesses.

"New mums need a lot of support," says Lesley. "In Sandwell they are quite lucky because a lot of extended family tends to live nearby, but that doesn't necessarily mean they get breastfeeding support. And that is what this scheme provides."

Drop-in clinics for breastfeeding support are available at:

  • Smethwick Uplands & Londonderry Sure Start Children's Centre – Mondays 11.00 – 12.00 noon.  0121 555 7371
  • Sandwell Maternity Unit, Sandwell Hospital – Mondays 10-11.30am in the Day Room, Maternity 1.  0121 612 2134 
  • Great Barr & Hamstead Sure Start Children's Centre – Thursdays 10am-12.00 noon.   0121 270 7090
  • Greets Green Children's Centre, West Bromwich – Thursdays 1-3pm. 0121 612 5131
  • Smethwick Library – Fridays 10am-12noon. 0121 555 4870
  • Cape Hill Children's Centre, Smethwick – Fridays 12noon-3pm. 0121 555 6756

Due for review October 2013