When it’s late at night and you are exhausted while your baby is hungry and screaming, breastfeeding can be downright impossible. After it was discovered that the UK has the lowest rate of breastfeeding mothers in the world, there was a public health initiative to give mothers more support. This common struggle led Public Health England to develop an interactive Facebook Messenger chatbot to “encourage longer breastfeeding relationships.”
The Start4Life BreastFeeding Friend chatbot, also known as BFF, is meant to give support to mothers during the late hours of the night while moms are struggling and scouring Google for answers to their breastfeeding questions. Unfortunately, the chatbot has not been very supportive.
One spokesperson from Public Health England said, “New babies need to be fed round the clock, and the peak times for online searches for breastfeeding help (by volume over 24 hours) are 2 and 6 a.m., when healthcare professionals and ‘phone helplines are not readily available.” While Public Health England makes a valid point, many breastfeeding mothers feel that the chatbot is not the answer they need. While the chatbot is available at those stressful hours of the night, it is not able to answer the general questions that many mothers have.
Because the responses are automated and only respond to shorter phrases or keywords, the information that is given can be very limited. For example, many new mothers asked the common question of how frequently they should nurse their baby. Sadly, the chat bot did not have a sufficient answer.
However, the chatbot does seem to be helpful for frequently asked questions. If you plan on using it, some would advise you to skip the texting conversation with automated responses and instead go straight to the FAQs.
One new mom, Vivien de Tusch-Lec did find the bot more helpful than searching through Google. She said, “It gave me the advice I needed. It took a little while to get there, but not as long as trawling through myriad Google search results. It’s also useful as a quick reference tool where info is finely filtered according to questions, so ultimately I found it more accurate than other ways of finding info.”
Another mom, Kay Brown, added in a good point. Brown said, “One of the greatest struggles when breastfeeding is getting the correct latch and a suitable position and this isn’t something a chatbot can tell or give you direct support with.” All in all, the chatbot seems to be a good resource that needs some more fine tuning. Mom’s are still welcome to head to NHS’ breastfeeding website for more information.