Breastfeeding Friendly: Getting a Community on Board
It’s not my usual Sunday morning routine to go around town saying the word ‘breasts’ over and over through a loudspeaker, but this morning that’s exactly what I did. What’s more, I was sober and with my children. Today was a GOOD day…!
About a year ago, my friend Emma and I hatched a cunning plan. Never mind telling women they should breastfeed or lamenting why so many stop before they want to, we wanted to do something helpful to make it a bit easier for mums to feed day-to-day. Women have only had the right to breastfeed in public protected in law since 2010, and we were still hearing horror stories about women being asked to stop or made uncomfortable, so we decided to focus on the positive and start a scheme to promote where was good to go, and to spread the word to mums in our city, Chester.
We had a very clear vision from the outset; it needed to be positive about mums being able to live their lives while breastfeeding, not about the rights and wrongs of any choices they made. As a former breast-feeder who went through the stress of stopping before I was ready, it was quite personal to me and I felt that health-based schemes which focused only on the baby or losing weight could come across as judgey, and that the more that could be done to normalise breastfeeding the better. We also weren’t about giving the booby prize (b-dum tish!) to bad businesses, just promoting those that went above and beyond their legal requirements. A couple of evenings swapping ideas later, and ‘Breastfeeding Friendly Chester‘ was born!
We took our ideas along to our NCT Branch (where we were both already volunteers) and they were incredibly supportive and agreed to fund the start-up to the grand tune of £200. Emma has blogged the whole project story here and it has been a fantastic success. We quickly welcomed several other volunteers to the team and within a few short months had surveyed lots of local mums, built a business case, identified our target areas and were starting to contact businesses. A very lovely local illustrator/designer Chay (at Chayground) worked up a logo and we were off.
Barely a year later the scheme has been hugely successful – more than sixty local businesses have signed up to the scheme’s simple pledges to welcome breastfeeding anywhere in their premises, display our logo and train their staff accordingly. Not a lot to ask, you’d think, but some companies have refused point-blank to get involved, which only increases the volunteer determination to heavily promote the positive businesses.
For parents there’s a directory of good places to go, including info on general child-friendly facilities, and this is all regularly updated on Facebook and Twitter so parents find out about new venues as they sign up. Feedback has been amazing with many commenting that it has been helpful. In a recent survey 94% said BFF Chester had made it easier for them to find places to feed their baby, and 100% would recommend us to a friend. The local maternity unit (which delivers thousands of babies a year) are so pleased with the scheme, they give information on it to every new breastfeeding parent on discharge. It’s also reaching 650 people directly through social media, with extended impressions into the tens of thousands. Even better, in total the scheme has cost the princely sum of just £400 plus the hours of dedicated work by a small team of volunteers; what superb value for money!
Today was a celebration of both Breastfeeding Awareness Week, but also the success of the scheme. NCT Chester helped fund a promotional trip around our beautiful city of Chester on a popular landmark (the Heritage Bus) and we hit the streets with a loudspeaker letting people know what we were up to, followed by an ‘indoor picnic’ at the local Leisure Centre. A number of supporting businesses offered free entertainment, support, ice-creams, cakes etc, making it a fantastic event that attracted well over 150 people. Fantastic local advertising for local businesses.
Sadly, I don’t have time to volunteer anymore (the twins aren’t keen on sitting in the buggy while I chat to business owners, no matter how many snacks I give them) so I moved along at the end of last year, but Emma has continued to provide fabulous leadership and it has grown well beyond our original plans. I was delighted to be invited today and unbelievably proud of what we started, and of what Emma, Kate and the other volunteers have done with it. It’s fair to say that Chester must now be one of the most breastfeeding friendly cities in the UK!
So, a good idea and a great day! I highly recommend doing this kind of scheme, not least for the amusement of riding a bus through a city centre while giving breast-related information on a PA system. In fact, I think I may be addicted to the cheeky announcements now; I’m considering upping my game and looking for a ‘vagina’ related charity to support. Sod travelling the world, this is bucket list stuff!