Cuts to vital services mean that mothers who wish to breastfeed their babies are not getting the support they need, leading children’s doctors have said
Ministers must stop cuts to public health services – particularly health visiting services – or the UK will remain “bottom of the pack when it comes to breastfeeding”, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said.
The comments come as a new report concludes that support services have declined in recent years and many more are under threat.
Access to skilled support is a postcode lottery, according to the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) UK Report.
Meanwhile training for health workers is also patchy, the authors add.
Britain has one of the lowest levels of breastfeeding compared to other rich countries, previous studies have shown.
Earlier this year, figures published in The Lancet medical journal revealed that only one in every 200 British children – 0.5% – is breastfed until the age of 12 months.
Around 80% of mothers in the UK begin to breastfeed, but within weeks, breastfeeding rates plummet, the latest report states.
Commenting on the report, Professor Russell Viner, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “This time last year it was revealed that the UK had one of the worst breastfeeding rates in the world – a truly shocking revelation for an income-rich country.
“But worse still, a year on and nothing has changed.
“The truth is, women are not getting the support they need in order to sustain breastfeeding over several months and this has a knock-on effect on child health.
“This lack of support is down to pressures on the workforce with healthcare professionals simply not having the time to spend with mothers following birth.
“Putting it bluntly Government isn’t fulfilling its responsibility for baby feeding and unless it reverses cuts to public health budgets, specifically those impacting health visiting services, it is unlikely the UK will ever move from the bottom of the pack when it comes to breastfeeding and the nation’s health will suffer as a result.”
Sarah Fox, professional policy adviser at the Royal College of Midwives, added: “The UK as a whole is not doing as well as it can in promoting and supporting breastfeeding.
“This is worrying given there is a very strong and continually growing global body of evidence about the benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby, and its positive impact on public health.
“Breastfeeding is crucial to better public health and prevention of ill health and it should be seen as a key contribution to making the UK a healthier nation.
“We would urge Governments in the UK to take action to remove the barriers to breastfeeding and improve services and support.”
Professor Viv Bennett, chief nurse at Public Health England, said: “Promoting breastfeeding is a key priority for Public Health England as part of our objective to help every child have the best start in life.
“We are working with local services to create breastfeeding friendly communities, with midwives and health visitors to promote best practice, and through our Start4Life campaigns which provides parents with trusted NHS advice.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “To encourage more mothers to breastfeed, especially during the first six months, we are giving women information and support through thousands more midwives and health visitors that we have since 2010, as well as working with the National Infant Feeding Network and Unicef.
“We are absolutely committed to supporting mothers to breastfeed and in 2010 made it illegal to discriminate against a mother for breastfeeding in public. And over the next five years we will invest £16 billion in public health services.”