Opinion: The great baby feeding debate

A mum breastfeeding her baby.
A mum breastfeeding her baby.
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It’s the reason why the human race has survived – so why is there still so much controversy about breastfeeding?

Last week, an open letter calling for action over a “crisis of lack of support” was sent to the Government and the heads of the NHS.

The letter followed the news that the UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world for babies aged 12 months.

Few people could fail to know about the many benefits of breastfeeding, so why is it that just 1 per cent of babies in the UK are fed only breast milk for the recommended first six months of their lives?

Many mums say they wished they’d been able to breastfeed for longer, so support is key.

In hospital there is plenty, but afterwards this is often hard to access during the difficult first few days, especially during the night – when exhausted new mums are most likely to be struggling.

Cuts to support services are likely to mean even fewer women in the UK breastfeed for as long as they want to, not only because there will be less practical help. Social support is crucial in giving mums the confidence to breastfeed as women may get little back-up from their partner or family if all they have known is formula feeding.

Increasing levels of breastfeeding worldwide would save the lives of 800,000 children a year and is one of the most effective preventive health measures.

Leeds is relatively well-equipped with support services, but in other parts of Yorkshire and elsewhere, they’re being closed.

Making cuts may save money now, but the long-term effects are only likely to cost the NHS more in future.

Breastfeeding facts:

Breast milk provides babies with a tailor made, perfect first food which changes according to their age and needs.

It protects against infection and disease and reduces the risk of dying, including from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months and carrying on alongside solid foods until the age of two.

Breastfeeding reduces the mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.

Almost all women are able to breastfeed. Feeding frequently at the start is vital to establish supply.

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