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Doctors want pupils to be taught about breastfeeding

Britain has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in Europe.

Pupils should be taught about the importance of breastfeeding in schools, leading children’s doctors have said.

“Familiarity with breastfeeding” should be part of personal, health and social education in schools, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said.

A new position paper on breastfeeding, released at the start of World Breastfeeding Week, also calls on ministers to legislate for breastfeeding breaks and facilities suitable in all workplaces for breastfeeding or expressing breast milk.

The College said that the UK has “little to celebrate” in terms of its record on breastfeeding.

It said that Britain has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in Europe and criticised data collection surrounding breastfeeding.

The RCPCH called on the Government to reinstate the UK-wide Infant Feeding Survey, which was cancelled in 2015.

Data from 2010 show that only 34% of babies are receiving some breast milk at six months of age compared with 49% in the US and 71% in Norway . At a year this figure fell to 0.5%.

Figures for England in 2015/16 show that while almost three-quarters of mothers started breastfeeding, this fell to 43.2% when babies were between six and eight weeks old.

The document suggests that social stigma is at heart of UK’s low breastfeeding rate.

Societal attitudes may lead to women feeling uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public or in the presence of peers and family members.

Meanwhile, maternal concern about whether an infant is receiving sufficient milk may result in reinforcement from friends, family and health professionals, to “supplement” with formula which undermines maternal milk production, the RCPCH said.

New RCPCH guidance also highlights the health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child, as well as the cost savings to families and health services.

The College advises that mothers should be encouraged and supported to breastfeed exclusively for up to six months and solid food should be introduced from six months, ideally alongside breastfeeding, to ensure the infant has adequate nutrition.

Meanwhile, mothers may experience practical problems in establishing breastfeeding, and fail to access or receive adequate practical support.

The RCPCH has also called on the NHS in England and the Welsh Government to ensure all maternity services achieve and maintain the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative accreditation – this requirement is currently met by all maternity units in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

A poll by the website Mumsnet of 1,030 mothers found that three-quarters said they believed that there was “too much emphasis on telling women why they should breastfeed, and not enough on supporting them to breastfeed”.

The survey identified a number of reasons why mothers stopped breastfeeding by six to eight weeks including: problems with latching, concerns over the amount of milk being produced, pain, exhaustion, difficulties with expressing milk and concerns over the baby’s weight.

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