Summit aims to convince mothers to breast feed

Breastfeeding rates vary widly across Scotland, with age and economic status being factors. Picture: Getty
Breastfeeding rates vary widly across Scotland, with age and economic status being factors. Picture: Getty
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A summit will be held in the New Year to look at ways of encouraging more women to breastfeed their babies.

The event is aimed at addressing the relatively static rates of breastfeeding in Scotland over the past decade.

Figures show 48.4 per cent of babies were breastfed at around ten days old in 2013-14, compared with 44.4 per cent in 2004-05.

But that rate falls to 37.9 per cent at the six to eight-week review stage, and varies wildly across Scotland. The percentage exclusively breastfed is as low as 23.4 per cent in NHS Lanarkshire, but 58.7 per cent in NHS Orkney. By six to eight weeks, the figure drops to 17.3 per cent and 46.4 respectively.

Half of Scottish health boards show rates of women exclusively breastfeeding or mixing breast and formula milk below the 50 per cent target set by the Scottish Government.

The World Health Organisation recommends all children be exclusively breastfed up to six months, then receive breast milk with other foods for up to, and even beyond, two years.

Experts will meet on 24 February at Murrayfield to share the latest evidence on the benefits of breastfeeding, review what is working well and identify ways to drive up rates.

A key focus will be on increasing rates of breastfeeding in the most deprived areas in order to help reduce health inequalities.

Mothers in the wealthiest areas are nearly three times as likely to exclusively breastfeed at six to eight weeks as those in the most deprived areas. There are also significant differences in the rates depending on the age at which a woman has her child, with breastfeeding increasing for older mothers.

Public health minister Maureen Watt said: “Breastfeeding has major health benefits, in the short and longer term, for both mother and baby.

“That is why the Scottish Government continues to promote it as the best source of nutrition for babies.

“We know it is important to understand the factors which influence a mother’s infant feeding decision and develop effective strategies to encourage more women to breastfeed.

“Research shows that women who know about the health benefits of breastfeeding are more likely to start, therefore it’s essential that in the antenatal period the health benefits of breastfeeding are discussed and explained to all women.”

Rates at six months of age are as high as 80 per cent in Norway, 68 per cent in Sweden and 60 per cent in Australia, compared to just 34 per cent in the UK.

Yet analysis by Unicef UK this month said there was a “strong economic case” for encouraging more women to breastfeed, potentially saving the NHS across the UK £11 million a year by preventing infections. Another £31m could be saved by reducing the cases of breast cancer.

Evidence has shown the practice protects against gastrointestinal and lower respiratory tract and ear infections in infants, concluded Unicef, which has been promoting breastfeeding. But researchers said most women stopped before they wished to because of problems.

While 81 per cent of new mothers start breastfeeding, only 7 per cent are still feeding exclusively breast milk by four months.

Controversy erupted this month when Louise Burns, 35, was told to cover her 12-week-old daughter’s head with a napkin at Claridge’s hotel in London.

The Breastfeeding etc (Scotland) Act 2005 makes it a finable offence to prevent a mother breastfeeding.