Cuts to “baby cafés” met with resistance from supporters

Baby cafes in Lewisham are a source of support and advice to young mothers. Pic: Sanutri Alimentación Infantil

Baby cafes in Lewisham are a source of support and advice to young mothers. Pic: Sanutri Alimentación Infantil

Reductions in funding for local breastfeeding cafés will be “extremely damaging” to young mothers, Lewisham Council has heard.

Lewisham Council confirmed proposals to reduce the budget for “baby cafés” in Lewisham by almost 40 per cent at a Mayor and Cabinet meeting earlier this month. The cafés provide essential post-natal support and guidance for new mothers and are held in health centres around Lewisham, such as the Waldron Health Centre.

The cuts are part of wider austerity measures which see Lewisham Council remodeling its services to find £85 million in savings by 2016.

The council previously allocated £77,000 per year to fund the baby cafés programme, 56 per cent of which supports breastfeeding “peer support” coordinators. The rest of the funds are split between registering licenses with UNICEF, a breastfeeding welcome scheme and training for the 35 volunteers.

The new budget will only allocate £49,000 to the programme, and will hit peer support and volunteers the hardest.

Toyin Adeyinka, a volunteer from a group which collected more than 800 signatures on a petition to save the cafes, said that the breastfeeding peer support programme offers a unique service in the early days of birth.

She said: “The volunteers give up their time because they are passionate about supporting other women.”

“In this time of widening health inequalities, this is not about one group supporting another. This is about community cohesion.”

Concerns have also been raised about the impact the cuts will have on Lewisham’s UNICEF baby-friendly accreditation: a global programme designed to support breastfeeding and parent-infant relationships by working with local public services to improve standards of care.

“This is an identified priority for us,” a spokesperson for the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group said. “While the peer support proposal is actually a reduction in the supporting infrastructure so should not have an impact, the support for the cafés could.”

Sir Steve Bullock, Mayor of Lewisham, said: “We think this is a fantastic project and the volunteers are a wonderful example of the community doing things together and making things happen.”

“£49,000 is still a significant investment. What we absolutely don’t want to do is put the volunteers in a position where they can’t continue their fantastic work.”

Netmums editor Rachel Burrows said: “Residents appreciate the need to make cuts and balance the council’s budget, but axing breastfeeding support won’t necessarily make economic sense.”

“A recent report found extending the amount of time mums breastfeed for would save the NHS £40 millon a year in improved health for both babies and mums.”

“The cafés cost relatively little to run but give a huge return by promoting parental wellbeing, infant health and a sense of community in Lewisham – and you cannot put a price on that.”

Susan Browne, mother of one, who attends weekly drop-in sessions at the Waldron Health Centre, said: “The cafés help women to do something that should come naturally but I know to be difficult. Their support is invaluable.”

“I know how important this service is in view of the fact that most women live apart from individuals who might give support in this field.”

Valerie Elderkin, who works as a community midwife and volunteers at the centre in her spare time said: “I can see how practical breast feeding support, which is easily accessible, is vital to avoid health problems further down the life.”

“Closing the cafes would be a false economy.”

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