UNICEF today welcomed news that breastfeeding initiation rates have risen to 81% across Britain.

The figures were published in the 2010 Infant Feeding Survey, a national survey conducted every five years on behalf of the Department of Health.

"This news is a testament to all the hard work put in by the NHS to improve the care given to breastfeeding women," said Sue Ashmore, director of UNICEF's Baby Friendly Initiative.

The survey provides an estimate of breastfeeding and other feeding practices adopted by mothers from the birth of their baby up to around 10 months. The figure of 81% represents an increase of 5% since the 2005 survey, and 12% since 2000.

Ashmore added: "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."

Over the last decade the number of UK maternity hospitals gaining UNICEF Baby Friendly Accreditation - that is, having been successfully assessed by UNICEF as having recognised good practice in place for infant feeding - has almost tripled, from 22 units in 2001 to 63 in 2011.

Most other hospitals are part way through the process of becoming Baby Friendly, following official Department of Health advice that all units should implement the Baby Friendly standards.

These standards are based on the UNICEF/WHO-recognised Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding. These standards ensure all staff are trained in how to help a woman breastfeed, to give all women an hour of skin-to-skin contact, and to encourage demand feeding.

Read the 2010 Infant Feeeding Survey.

Find out more about the Baby Friendly Initiative.

A baby breastfeeding UNICEF UK/Jill Jennings 2006
Breastfeeding has numerous health benefits for mothers and babies.UNICEF UK/Jill Jennings 2006