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Variation in breastfeeding rates 'concerning', warns RCM

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There are wide regional variations in the proportion of new mothers who start breastfeeding their babies, new figures show.

“Initiation rates” vary from just over a third of mothers in the worst performing areas to more than nine in 10 in the best, according to latest data from NHS England.

“The large variations in breastfeeding rates are a concern and I would want to see more work done to find out why this is happening”

Louise Silverton

The figures, which cover the first four months of 2013-14 are from just over half of local clinical commissioning groups, showed that initiation rates ranged from 36.7% in Stoke-on-Trent to 92.8% in Wandsworth in south west London.

NHS England did not publish the national average due to “low data coverage”, but in 2012-13 it stood at 73.9%.

The Royal College of Midwives said the variation in rates was “concerning”.

Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the RCM, said: “Whilst these figures appear to show some welcome improvement we must all strive to make even more progress. The large variations in breastfeeding rates are a concern and I would want to see more work done to find out why this is happening.

“There are very good examples of innovative and successful breastfeeding projects in maternity services across the country,” she said. “We would encourage services to look at and share their experiences to see if similar initiatives can work elsewhere.”

A separate report on breastfeeding, which was published by the RCM in May, concluded that mothers needed more support with breastfeeding.

It highlighted the need for enough midwives and maternity support workers to ensure women received the right level of advice and support, before they left hospital and also once they were home.

“The health benefits of breastfeeding for mother and baby can be very significant and have an impact on the health of the child into its adult life,” said Ms Silverton.

“It can make an enormous contribution to public health and midwives are the key health professionals to deliver this.”

She added: “We are also still seeing too many stories about women being prevented from breastfeeding in public places.

“We call upon the Westminster government to follow the example of devolved nations and enact legislation making it illegal to prevent women feeding their babies in public spaces.”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • These rates may be misleading as they refer to the number of mothers who put their baby to the breast whilst in hospital. As the average stay for mothers stands around 36 hours or less and it can take up to fourteen days to successfully establish breastfeeding, many of these mothers give up within that time. There are also those mothers who have no real intention of breastfeeding but are intimidated by the midwives in the maternity units into 'giving it a try', and give formula as soon as they are discharged home. Whatever we are told, breastfeeding is often not simple and straightforward, and mothers require an enormous amount of support. Who gives that support, midwives and ancillary staff in the maternity units? No, because they are usually rushed off their feet. Midwives or ancillary workers in the community? No they are so thin on the ground you are lucky to see one at all!!

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