Baby boxes won't help mothers breastfeed, Labour claims

Baby boxes set to be delivered to new parents from New Year's day are a 'missed opportunity' because they will not include support to encourage mothers to breast feed, Labour has warned.

The first baby boxes will be rolled out in the new year
The first baby boxes will be rolled out in the new year

The boxes will include clothes, nappies and books, but ministers have confirmed they “do not plan to include direct aids to support breast feeding”.

Less than 15% of mothers in the most deprived areas breast feed their babies beyond the first six to eight weeks, compared with just under half in the wealthiest areas.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Overall, Scotland has one of the worst breast feeding rates in the world, with the Royal College of Midwives warning that the sexualisation of women’s bodies is having a knock-on effect on the health of newborns because of the widespread use of formula milk.

Labour inequalities spokesperson Monica Lennon MSP said: “At a time when breast feeding rates in the poorest areas are so low, this looks like a massive missed opportunity to promote breast feeding.

“With breast feeding, babies get natural immunities and fewer infections. They are less likely to be obese in later life.

“It was Labour MSP Elaine Smith who introduced a Breast feeding Act to give mothers the protection to breast feed in public free of stigma, but the SNP government simply has not done enough to promote it since.

“Labour supports the aims behind the baby box but what it actually delivers is essential. Missing basic support like this makes it look like a PR exercise rather than a good piece of public policy.”

The first baby boxes will be send out from Hogmanay in pilot areas, with all new parents across Scotland receiving the support pack from later in 2017. The policy was borrowed from Finland, where the roll out of baby boxes 80 years ago is credited with reducing infant mortality to one of the lowest levels in the world.

Responding to a written parliamentary question from Labour, early years minister Mark McDonald said: “The Baby Box will include materials which promote attachment and which help parents prepare for the arrival of their baby. There will also be a strong focus on joining up core public health messages around things like safe-sleep.

“At present we do not plan to include direct aids to support breast feeding, but we will signpost parents to the new website so that they can access up-to-date information which will help them make the right feeding choices for their babies.”