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Alert over low breastfeeding rates

Low breastfeeding rates in the UK are costing the NHS millions of pounds every year, a charity has warned.

Unicef UK said that increasing breastfeeding rates would reduce illness and save money for the health service.

It estimates that moderate increases in breastfeeding could see potential annual savings of up to £40 million.

It also said there would be a reduction in the number of cases of breast cancer, and fewer cases of gastroenteritis and respiratory problems in babies.

The children’s charity said that new mothers should be offered more support to encourage breastfeeding. It said that support currently offered by the health service was “patchy”.

“We want to see breastfeeding recognised as a major public health issue from government level through to local children’s centres, and appropriate investment and legislation put in place to give mothers a better experience of breastfeeding,” said Unicef UK deputy executive director Anita Tiessen.

The charity said there should be public awareness campaigns to make mothers aware of the benefits of breastfeeding. It also said there should be legislation to prevent formula companies undermining breastfeeding.

The research estimates if 45% of all babies were exclusively breastfed for four months, and if 75% of babies in neonatal units were breastfed at discharge there would be 3,285 fewer babies hospitalised with gastroenteritis every year.

There would also be 21,045 fewer GP visits for ear infections and 5,916 fewer babies hospitalised with respiratory illness, the charity said.

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “We know, because women tell us, that many of them do not get the support and help they need in the early postnatal period from midwives. There are many strategies that can be put in place to improve breast feeding rates including increasing support from other women.

“However, if we are to deliver both the potential health and economic benefits that increased breast feeding will bring, we must ensure there are enough midwives and trained support workers to give women the help and advice they need throughout and beyond pregnancy.”

Readers' comments (2)

  • What we need is more info to help prevent doctors from disrupting breast feeding. Usually our Drs will take a quick look at any baby with more than 10% weight loss and will prescribe formula feeds at levels which will suppress demand for the breast and delay milk coming through.
    It would be great too to have details of normal sodium levels in babies who are still only receiving colostrum. My suspicion is that a raised sodium is probably the norm in this group and will lower when milk comes in...

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  • I believe that all health vistors are responsible for this work and I agree with the public health charity about considering breast feeding awareness campaigns. These Health visitors need the help of the government to intervine and find ways of ecouranging mothers to breast feed their children. By educating them with the knowledge of the benefits of breast feeding and the disadvatages of not breast feeding, and not just giving out leaflets to new mothers who may not even read them because they cannot be bothered to read or they do not understand what is written in them .

    Expectant women need to get help and informaton from the antenatal classess because some of them may be having their first pregancy and don't know what needs to be done after the baby is born. Some mothers after giving birth, get antenatal depression and this is the time when the baby needs the breast milk and the mother is not able to produce the milk from the breast, because she is not eating well and does not know what to eat in order to be able to produce enough milk for the baby or she feels stressed and then gives up before even trying to breast feed and support is needed.

    However, local communities groups should set up workshops to support mothers and expectant mothers, because this is could be another way of getting the health professionals to give talks about breastfeeding awareness and to bring together mothers to support and encourage each other locally.

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