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93% of Northern Ireland babies not breastfed up to six months

New figures from the Public Health Agency (PHA) reveal 93% of babies in Northern Ireland were not exclusively breastfed up until six months, despite the recommendation from the World Health Organisation.

Meanwhile, according to statistics from April 2012 to March 2016, published by The Detail, breastfeeding was not attempted in hospital for just under half of newborn babies in Northern Ireland - that's more than 42,000 newborns.

The figures come as the PHA prepares to launch a huge breastfeeding campaign in August.

The aim is to increase public awareness of the importance of breastfeeding.

Janet Calvert, PHA’s regional breastfeeding co-ordinator, told Detail Data, social stigmas around the issue must also be addressed.

She explained: “It’s not just about sorting out the health service, although that is a key part of it. It’s creating supportive environments for breastfeeding across communities and within families, and shifting any bias, negative attitudes and misconceptions about breastfeeding.

“In Northern Ireland we have to move further along the journey of really valuing breastfeeding.

"We are living in a bottle feeding culture. Most of us have grown up seeing babies bottle fed.

“The way we feed babies has been historical and we need to change history now. We need to get more women in their families successfully breastfeeding so that they will influence decisions in the next generation.”

Northern Ireland has the lowest breastfeeding rate in the UK, which is among the lowest in the world, according to research by The Lancet.

An advocate for breastfeeding, the World Health Organisation has said: “Breast milk is the natural first food for babies, it provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one-third during the second year of life.

“Breast milk promotes sensory and cognitive development and protects the infant against infectious and chronic diseases.”

The feeding status of 97,737 babies in Northern Ireland born between April 1, 2012 and March 31, 2016 were examined by The Detail.

The report found:

  • Breastfeeding was attempted prior to discharge from hospital with 56% of all babies.
  • 42,876 babies left hospital without having tried breastfeeding.
  • By discharge, the percentage of babies totally breastfeeding had fallen to 37%.
  • 24% of babies from the most deprived backgrounds were breastfeeding when leaving hospital compared to 51% from the least deprived.
  • 44% of babies born to mothers aged 35 to 39 years were breastfeeding at discharge compared to 17% of babies born to mothers under 20 years.

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