Breastfeeding reduces the risk of babies becoming ill. It is also associated with a reduced risk of later childhood disease and protects the mother’s health. It has been suggested that the lower incidence of illness associated with higher breastfeeding rates could also lead to significant cost savings in the treatment of illnesses such as gastro-enteritis.
While UK breastfeeding rates are increasing, they are still among the lowest in Europe. At birth, only 81 per cent of British babies are breastfed. This figure falls to 69 per cent at one week. Just one in three babies are still receiving breastmilk at six months, despite recommendations that babies need nothing other than breastmilk for the first six months of life.
The UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative provides a framework for the implementation of best practice by NHS trusts, other health-care facilities and higher education institutions, with the aim of ensuring that all parents make informed decisions about feeding their babies and are supported in their chosen feeding method.
Best practice is represented by the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding (for maternity units) and the Seven Point Plan for the Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding in Community Health Care Settings. Facilities and institutions that meet the required standard can be assessed and accredited as Baby Friendly.
Implementing Baby Friendly standards is a proven way of increasing breastfeeding rates (references 1, 2, 3, 4). It also means health professionals can give mothers the support, information and encouragement they need.
1. Broadfoot M et al (2005) The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative and breast feeding rates in Scotland. Archives of Disease in Childhood Fetal and Neonatal Edition; 90: F114-F116
2. Tappin DM et al (2001) Breastfeeding rates are increasing in Scotland. Health Bulletin; 59 (2): 102-107
3. UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative (2000) Baby Friendly Hospitals show strong increase in breastfeeding rates. Baby Friendly News No 6, July 2000
4. Kramer MS et al (2001) Promotion of Breastfeeding Intervention Trial (PROBIT). A randomized trial in the Republic of Belarus. JAMA; 285: 413-420