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New programme will promote maternal and infant nutrition

Posted on 9 March 2011

The University of York is launching a £1 million collaborative programme aimed at encouraging improved nutrition for mothers and infants.

A key element of the programme led by the Mother and Infant Research Unit (MIRU), based in the University’s Department of Health Sciences, is to help to support women to breastfeed.

This work will help us to improve support for pregnant and childbearing women, and also to find the best ways of improving nutrition for women themselves

Professor Mary Renfrew

Funding from Government, charities and the NHS will support a range of research, policy, innovation and education projects. The programme includes a new educational framework that will be offered to hundreds of NHS staff and others who work with new mothers and babies.

Policy-related research includes an economic analysis of breastfeeding to examine the cost to the UK health service of illnesses related to formula feeding versus breastfeeding.

There will be an evaluation of the welfare food scheme, Healthy Start, which distributes vouchers for fresh fruit and vegetables to low-income families in England. Researchers will examine the views of families and staff about how the scheme is working and ways in which it could be improved.

The programme will also publish an evidence-based blueprint for promoting breastfeeding and attachment in neonatal units, while neonatal units across Yorkshire will be supported in developing practice to better support and enable women to breastfeed.

A new online multidisciplinary education programme on breastfeeding is being launched to ensure staff working with mothers and babies have good quality, evidence-based information and resources about infant feeding. The first phase will see this resource made available free of charge in February to 400 NHS staff in Yorkshire and Humber. From April it will be available for NHS and related organisations to purchase.

Professor Mary Renfrew, the Director of MIRU, said: “It is important that women have the best possible help to breastfeed, especially if their baby is small or sick. This work will help us to improve support for pregnant and childbearing women, and also to find the best ways of improving nutrition for women themselves.”

Partners in the programme include the University’s Departments of Health Sciences and Social Policy and Social Work and the Hull York Medical School. External partners include the Health Economics Research Group at Brunel University, the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University, St George’s University of London, the national Public Health Observatory for Children and Maternity (ChiMat), the Yorkshire and Humber Health Innovation and Education Cluster (HIEC), and NHS colleagues across Yorkshire and the Humber and Trent regions.

The initiative is funded by the Department of Health Policy Research Programme, the Yorkshire and Humber Strategic Health Authority (SHA), the new Yorkshire and Humber HIEC, the Yorkshire and Humber NHS and UNICEF UK.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health Sciences’ Midwifery Education Team has achieved the first stage of the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly accreditation award. This demonstrates excellence in the curriculum in relation to teaching midwifery students about infant feeding. 

Notes to editors:

  • More information about the Mother and Infant Research Unit at the University of York is at
  • More information about the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative, contact or go to
  • More information on Yorkshire and Humber Strategic Health Authority (SHA) at
  • Health Innovation and Education Clusters (HIECs). The 17 HIECs in England originated from High Quality Care for All1 (DH, 2008). This described HIECs as bringing together “many partners, across primary, community and secondary care, universities and colleges and industry…bringing NHS organisations and higher education institutions together will enable research findings to be applied more readily to patient care”. The vision for the Yorkshire & Humber HIEC is to make the NHS in Yorkshire and Humber a national and international leader in the rapid and universal introduction of proven innovative best practices and technologies in healthcare delivery, education, training and development – turning best practice into common practice. The Y&H HIEC has three themes: Long Term Conditions, Maternal & Infant Health and Care, and Patient Safety.  For further information please go to:

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David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153

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