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Innovation through health visiting – using apps to improve breastfeeding rates by Clare Whitehead

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Baby's HealthcareThe six high impact areas articulate the contribution of health visitors to the 0-5 agenda and describe areas where health visitors have a significant impact on health and wellbeing and improving outcomes for children, families and communities. One of these areas is breastfeeding, which health visitors in the Wirral, along with other public health agencies, are giving innovative help through a breastfeeding app.

Historically, the Wirral has a low take up of breastfeeding:

  • Rates of breastfeeding were at 31.3% at 6 – 8 weeks - amongst the bottom 10 of Primary Care Trusts in the UK.
  • Poor initiation rates and discontinuation of breastfeeding by the tenth day.
  • Lack of contact with breastfeeding support services by younger mothers and those mothers from less affluent areas – services were well-attended by those over 25 and from more affluent areas.
  • The area was in the bottom 20 in the UK for Breastfeeding Public Health Action Plan and a population segregated by health needs.

While there were many local community services which health visitors support and lead on the delivery of, health visitors felt there were still significant gaps, with young mothers highlighted as being of particular concern.

Health visitors saw that young mothers in particular are often reluctant to engage face-to-face with services. Health visitors used their expertise and leadership to lead on developing an App which provides information and support without appearing unwieldy.

Launched in late 2012, the Breast Start App offers immediately accessible information and support to breastfeeding mothers at a time when they need it, in a friendly, accessible format.

Through the app, health visitors have played a vital role in improving outcomes in breastfeeding and significantly contributing to the health of both the mother and child. While the increase in breastfeeding at 6-8 weeks is still slow in Wirral, at 6 months rates are now 13% - considerably higher than the national average.

And it’s low cost as well, at around £1500 per year for each organisation. Use of the App has grown from an initial 3,000 downloads across the UK and 26 countries around the world to 9000 downloads in 29 countries, 90% of downloads are in UK.

The App has now been sold to 24 NHS and Local Authority Organisations, generating income for further development.

Beyond the statistics, feedback from clients has been positive, and the App is cited by women as a resource they use regularly for help and advice, rely on it and a resource they love.

Staff also feel engaged with the breastfeeding agenda, with access to the most modern tools available. Since the App is designed to reflect the teaching methods used by health visitors, the information flow to the client is consistent and clear. Health visitors now only need to carry a small supply of leaflets with them reducing costs in printing and distribution.

The local infant feeding lead, Clare Whitehead, said:” Creating and managing the Breast Start App has had many benefits for both the service and the clients. As a service we have developed a strategy for utilising modern media and reaching those who are hard to engage with core services. We now provide a range of data that is accessible to any client any time, but has the guarantee that it is research based.

After the success of Breast Start we have furthered the technology we use with a text buddy service, to support clients remotely and a Facebook Page offering support, information with links to wider resources, we are currently looking at how we can further develop this.

For the clients Breast Start provides and up to date information service that is accessible 24hrs a day/ 365 days a year instantly, you can’t beat that for service!”


 Clare Whitehead is the Infant Feeding Lead at Wirral Community Trust


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