Cuts to breastfeeding services and lack of support means new mothers are stopping breastfeeding earlier than suggested say leading health visitors and midwives.
In an open letter published in The Lancet, a number of healthcare professionals say that breastfeeding rates plummet in the first months after birth and most mothers say they stopped breastfeeding before they wanted to.
Previous research published in The Lancet found that breastfeeding rates at 12 months in the UK were the lowest in the world. However, rates of breastfeeding have been increasing since the 1990s and are relatively high according to the last national survey.
The signatories of the open letter say that the low rates of breastfeeding at one year are due to the £200million cuts to the public health budgets and so local authorities across the country are closing down breastfeeding services. ‘Each week, we hear of yet another breastfeeding drop-in or peer-support programme that has closed or is under threat of closure, and the number of infant feeding specialist staff posts has been drastically cut in recent years,’ the letter said.
The letter calls for more robust NICE guidelines that all community settings and maternity hospitals should be Baby Friendly accredited and that all mothers should be offered skilled breastfeeding support. They also say that local authorities should have safeguardeded public health budget for universal health visiting services and breastfeeding support. Cheryll Adams, the executive director of the Institute of Health Visiting, said: 'The uptake of breastfeeding is a major public health issue and the UK must address its very disappointing figures, laid bare by The Lancet, as a first step in also addressing many other health issues improved by breastfeeding, including the challenging year on year increase in childhood obesity which breastfeeding can protect against. A reduction in childhood obesity is a priority for the government so breastfeeding must now also be given priority status with mothers given access to the professional and voluntary support they need to breastfeed for as long as they wish.'