Public Health England (PHE) has launched the ‘Start4Life Breastfeeding Friend’ (BFF), a new interactive tool (chatbot) to help guide new mums through their first weeks of breastfeeding.

The chatbot, which can be accessed through Facebook messenger, works as a live chat tool via one-to-one messaging and push notifications. BFF gives mums 24/7 access to expert NHS-trusted advice in a friendly and familiar way, providing clarity around breastfeeding barriers, which are often misconceptions, and helping to alleviate any concerns mums may have.

Ann Crawford, Deputy Director, Health & Wellbeing, PHE East Midlands said:

“Many of the mothers we have spoken to have said how important support and advice is in the first few weeks of breastfeeding – although it is natural to feed your baby this way, it is a skill that needs to be learnt by both baby and mother. Not everyone can attend a local breastfeeding group so the Start4Life Breastfeeding Friend is a great tool that is free, quick and easy to use and can offer guidance and answer questions that are concerning parents of babies.”

Less than 44% of women in England are breastfeeding once their baby reaches two months old[1], despite the fact that three quarters (73%) of women begin doing so when their baby is born.[2]

The breastfeeding rates suggest that many women who start breastfeeding feel that they cannot continue beyond 6-8 weeks. Evidence has shown that getting the right support enables mums to breastfeed for longer.[3]

While mother’s milk contains all the nutrients a baby needs, a poll of 500 mothers of young children, by Public Health England showed that more than half were concerned if their baby was getting too much or not enough milk. A similar proportion of mums surveyed think they need a special diet to breastfeed. Nearly 3 in 10 worried their baby might not be getting the right nutrients, indicating why mothers may stop breastfeeding at this early point.

Public Health England recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. Breastfeeding helps with babies’ brain development, passes on the mother’s immune defences, provides protection against infections, and benefits mums by protecting against some cancers and burning around 500 calories a day.

Viv Bennett, Chief Nurse at Public Health England said:

“Breastfeeding, while natural, is something that all mums and their babies learn by doing. Mums tell us that after the first few weeks breastfeeding becomes easier, so proper support is crucial at this time, which is where our ‘bot’ is designed to help.

“Supporting breastfeeding needs to be part of our culture. We can all help to create a societal support system so that breastfeeding becomes easier for mums everywhere.”

For more information, advice and tips on breastfeeding visit the NHS Start4Life website.

To access the ‘Start4Life Breastfeeding Friend’, visit Facebook. pu

[1] Public Health England data on breastfeeding at 6-8 weeks Q3 2015/2016

[2] NHS England breastfeeding initiation rates Q3 2015/2016

[3] The Lancet, Why invest, and what it will take to improve breastfeeding practices? 29 January 2016