New mother breastfeeding rates rise

The number of new mothers who start breastfeeding is on the rise, figures show.

More than eight out of 10 newborns are now breastfed, up from six out of 10 in 1990.

The data for 2010, from the NHS Information Centre, covers the whole of the UK.

A breakdown shows that breastfeeding rates were higher in England than in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, although rates have risen in most areas.

The report covers babies who are initially breastfed - including those who have been put to the breast only once.

More detailed data on the proportion of women who are still breastfeeding six weeks later and when their child is about six months old will be published next year.

The report comes after it emerged the Department of Health in England has axed funding for National Breastfeeding Awareness Week, which runs this week.

Campaigners have also accused ministers of cutting funding for a network of regional infant feeding co-ordinators, who train staff and offer advice on feeding babies.

Today's report showed that 90 per cent of women in managerial and professional jobs breastfeed their child initially, dropping to 74 per cent of those in routine or manual jobs and 71 per cent of those who have never worked.

Older mothers are also more likely to breastfeed (87 per cent over the age of 30) compared to 58 per cent of mothers under 20.

The data was gathered from almost 16,000 women and showed a rise from 76 per cent to 83 per cent in initial breastfeeding in England between 2005 and 2010.

In Wales, the figure rose from 67 per cent to 71 per cent, and from 70 per cent to 74 per cent in Scotland.

For Northern Ireland, there was no real change between 2005 and 2010.

The percentage of mothers smoking before or during pregnancy fell from 33 per cent to 26 per cent between 2005 and 2010, today's report also revealed.

Marianne Monie, chair of the Breastfeeding Network, said: "Breastfeeding their baby is something we know is close to many mums' hearts, and most babies in this country start off breastfeeding.

"The last survey from 2005 told us that, sadly, the vast majority of women who stopped breastfeeding in the first six weeks wanted to carry on for longer.

"We want to see women fully supported with skilled help to breastfeed for as long as they want to continue.

"Breastfeeding is not just good for mothers and babies, but because breastfed babies are ill less than babies fed infant formula, supporting mothers to breastfeed can also save the NHS money.

"At a time when every penny counts, this makes it even more important that as the NHS is reorganised this important public health priority is not forgotten.

"Strong leadership from the Department of Health remains crucial and we hope the good work of recent years to build up breastfeeding services for families does not unravel as leadership structures are dismantled."

Unicef UK welcomed today's figures.

Its baby-friendly initiative director Sue Ashmore said: "In recent years hospitals have put a great deal of effort into improving staff training and knowledge, and putting in place policies and practices proven to increase breastfeeding rates.

"Now we have the figures to show this nationwide effort has paid off."

The Department of Health confirmed it had withdrawn funding for this year's National Breastfeeding Awareness Week and nine regional infant feeding co-ordinators.

A spokesman said: "The Department recognises the importance of breastfeeding, both for the mother and her baby, and we continue to support breastfeeding through the Healthy Child Programme, as set out in the Public Health White Paper.

"We have made the challenging commitment to an extra 4,200 health visitors by 2015.

"Health visitors will be able to help support women who want to breastfeed but may find it difficult."

He added: "Breastfeeding is good for babies and mothers so it is encouraging to see an increase in the number of women who start breastfeeding."

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