Breastfeeding charges fall throughout England

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Just over four in ten mothers are still breastfeeding their babies when they are six weeks old, new figures show.

Only 42.7% of mothers were breastfeeding their babies six to eight weeks after birth, according to Public Health England (PHE) data for 2017/18 in England.

In 2016/17 the figure stood at 44.4%, according to PHE.

Data from NHS England show that the rate was 43.1% in 2015/16, and 43.8% for 2014/15.

Breastfeeding rates also varied significantly by region.

Eight in 10 babies were being breastfed at this age in Tower Hamlets in London compared to less than one in five (18.9%) in Knowsley, Merseyside.

The World Health Organisation recommends that mothers should exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life.

After babies start eating solid foods at six months of age, officials suggest continued breastfeeding up to the age of two and beyond.

Meanwhile the NHS Start for Life website adds that there are many advantages of breastfeeding, including health benefits for both babies and mothers.

Breast milk protects babies from infections and provides a “perfect balance” of vitamins and nutrition for infants, according to the website.

Breastfed babies have a lower chance of cot death and childhood leukaemia, they also have a lower risk of allergies and are less likely to develop diabetes or become overweight when they are older.

Benefits for women include reducing their risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Previous research has estimated that 5% of breast cancer cases in the UK are caused by not breastfeeding.

Professor Viv Bennett, chief nurse at Public Health England, said: “Breastfeeding provides the best nutritional start in life and is something that mothers and babies learn together.

“We know some mothers may need support and encouragement to help them start and continue with breastfeeding. That’s why we offer trusted advice to parents through our Start4Life campaign resources and to midwives and health visitors through professional guidance.”

Carmel Lloyd, head of education at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “These latest annual statistics suggest England could be doing better when it comes breastfeeding.

“Typically the number of women who start breastfeeding in the UK is at around 80%, but unfortunately after a couple of weeks this number falls dramatically.

“Low breastfeeding rates in parts of the UK unfortunately indicate a much bigger social and cultural problem that needs to be tackled. There are some areas where many generations of women haven’t been given the example of breastfeeding or offered the right support to enable them to initiate and sustain breastfeeding if they choose to breastfeed.

“For women who choose to breastfeed it is so important that they feel supported not only by midwives, but by their family, friends and wider society too, particularly when it comes to breastfeeding public.

“What the RCM would like to see is an investment in high-quality postnatal support and infant feeding specialists to help women initiate and sustain breastfeeding if that is the way they have chosen to feed their baby.”

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