MORE than 100 mothers refused to keep mum over health funding cuts during a protest march in Northampton against the planned closure of an NHS-funded breast-feeding cafe.
The mums and their children barricaded Wellington Street with buggies then marched on County Hall yesterday lunchtime, in a last-ditch effort to change the minds of health chiefs, who have decided that £16,000 of yearly funding for the Northampton Baby Cafe will be withdrawn.
Protesters said yesterday the health conditions that children could sustain through parents resorting to formula milk, and the associated long term costs to the taxpayer, outweighed the relatively small outlay from the annual £1 billion NHS budget.
Nicky Frost, of Little Billing, who is a breast-feeding support worker, said: “Breast-feeding is a natural thing to do but there are always bumps in the road so help and encouragement is absolutely vital to make sure mothers give it a try and keep going. Many mums would be lost without this service.”
The banner-waving mothers and children were clapped and cheered as they paraded through the town centre at Friday lunchtime, shouting slogans and loudly shaking baby rattles.
Mary Nichol, a former NHS health worker, said: “I saw them protesting and felt I had to come across and sign their petition. I have two daughters aged 17 and 20 and it would have been brilliant to have had the baby cafe’s support when they were young because it is a very vulnerable time.
“It was difficult for me but the health benefits are so immense. It’s outrageous they are even considering removing the money.”
The protesters were just a fraction of the 2,000-plus mums who by yesterday morning had signed paper and online petitions in support of the cafe – based in the Friends Meeting House in Wellington Street – which will close on March 30 without replacement funds to pay rent rates and wages. Since 2004, the cafe has seen more than 1,600 different women and their babies.
Apart from being free, breast-feeding is credited with a reduction in cases of many medical problems in children, from ear infections to diabetes. Surveys show that, without help, 26 per cent of mums revert to bottle-feeding after six months, compared with 49 per cent who have support.
Briony Askew, 38 from Towcester, who breast-fed daughter, Hetty, aged two, said: “We really hope our peaceful protest will make a difference. Mums and babies have such a small voice and we want the NHS to see how much this service means to us and our children. Basically, we want them to reverse their plans.”