Health: The NCT's provisional wing

A new organisation for breastfeeding counsellors is launched today. Its members aim to give independent advice to pregnant women in contrast, they claim, to the National Childbirth Trust from which they resigned two months ago over the charity's decision to accept sponsorship from the Sainsbury supermarket chain. Louise Jury examines why the rival body has been set up.

Around 70 women who were previously experienced breastfeeding counsellors with the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) are the founding members of the Breastfeeding Network.

Many were among those who quit the NCT in July because they felt compromised by its decision to accept sponsorship from Sainsbury's, which sells its own make of breast milk substitute.

The rebels argued that accepting the money from the only supermarket with its own brand of infant formula was an apparent endorsement which conflicted with their professional duty to be impartial as laid down in World Health Organisation guidelines.

Mary Broadfoot, of Glasgow, a trustee and one of the founders of the new charity, said: "We believe that parents have the right to independent information about breastfeeding to enable them to make an informed choice as to how to feed their babies, and to be supported in that choice. I think we've done the right thing."

The Breastfeeding Network will offer information and support for breastfeeding mothers and will set up a programme to train more volunteer counsellors.

It will not accept support from any company which manufactures or distributes infant formula, feeding bottles or teats. The network is being funded by donations and subscriptions and plans to have local support groups across the country. Interested parties can join as associate members.

"Businesses can make money from parents' choices about infant feeding - breastmilk substitutes, feeding bottles and teats all make money for someone, while breastmilk is free," Mrs Broadfoot said. Another trustee, Phyll Buchanan, of Wokingham, said: "We are working towards increasing awareness of current research on infant feeding, and also towards creating a society which affirms the right of all mothers to breastfeed their babies."

Andrew Radford, director of the Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative, said he welcomed the formation of the network, adding: "It will enable skilled breastfeeding supporters to continue their work with mothers."

A spokeswoman for the National Childbirth Trust, which has 600 breastfeeding counsellors and 300 trainees, said it looked forward to working alongside it the Breastfeeding Network. But she stressed that there had been a vote by NCT members to accept Sainsbury's sponsorship. "The NCT will not be associated with a company name that is primarily associated in the public mind with formula milk. Until the recent publicity, few people would have been aware that Sainsbury's sell an own-brand product," she said.

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