The Public Health Agency (PHA) is using National Breastfeeding Awareness Week (NBAW), which runs from 24 to 30 June to highlight that breastfeeding is the healthiest option for both mum and baby, and that by deciding to breastfeed you will be giving your child the best possible start in life. Indeed, any period of breastfeeding, however short, will benefit your baby.
Northern Ireland has seen some progress with breastfeeding rates at discharge from hospital increasing from 40 % in 2004 to 45% in 2010. However, rates here are lower than the UK as a whole, or in other parts of Europe.
Janet Calvert, Health and Wellbeing Improvement Manager at the PHA, said: “This is an issue that clearly needs addressed as breastfeeding has many important health benefits for both mother and baby. These include a reduced risk of ear, chest, kidney and stomach infections and less risk of childhood diabetes and obesity.
“Breastfeeding can also significantly reduce the risk of hospital admission of children for gastroenteritis and chest infections. The health benefits for mothers who choose to breastfeed can include a reduced risk of developing illnesses such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis.
“There are other benefits as well as those to your health. Breastfeeding is free – you don’t have to buy formula, bottles, teats or sterilising equipment, and breast milk is always available, with the right ingredients, at the right temperature, so it’s easier to feed at night or on the go.
“The PHA recognises the importance of breastfeeding to health and the need to ensure that mothers get off to a good start with breastfeeding. It is vital that mothers get the right support and encouragement from their family and friends should they decide to breastfeed. Breastfeeding can be difficult at the start and mothers need reassurance while they learn.
“There are many local initiatives in the community to improve breastfeeding support. These include improving support in the health service and through Sure Start programmes,” Janet added.
“Mother-to-mother peer support programmes are in place in many areas and are working with expectant and new mothers to help them breastfeed for longer. There are also 70 breastfeeding support groups which provide ongoing support for breastfeeding mothers throughout Northern Ireland.
“The PHA is also working to improve attitudes to breastfeeding in the public through the Breastfeeding Welcome Here scheme, which began in 2005, and now has over 200 businesses and public facilities signed up to support and welcome breastfeeding families.
The PHA also provides breastfeeding resources such as the ‘From Bump to Breastfeeding’ DVD for all expectant women. The DVD aims to change women’s attitudes during pregnancy so that they are more positive about breastfeeding and will attempt breastfeeding once the baby is born. Women who at baseline reported more pro-formula or ambivalent attitudes showed the largest increases in attitudes in favour of breastfeeding. Almost all women found the DVD useful (52% very useful, 46% quite useful in late pregnancy). In particular, mums appreciated how the DVD addressed dealing with problems and practical issues and how it encouraged a positive attitude towards breastfeeding. Nine out of ten mums would recommend the DVD to a friend. “All these initiatives, along with support from partners and family, are vital to help expectant and new mothers stay with breastfeeding.” Janet concluded.
For further information on breastfeeding visit www.breastfedbabies.org.uk
Contact the Public Health Agency on 028 90553663