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Investments needed in health visiting to increase breastfeeding rates

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Breastfeeding rates are alarmingly low in England Breastfeeding rates are alarmingly low in England

Breastfeeding support for mothers in England still varies based on location, a new report by the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative has found.

The reasons outlined in the report are lack of strong leadership and that cuts to services in some local areas have impacted on the care mothers receive.

The report looks at services and breastfeeding rates across the UK and recommends action that can be taken from government level to local level.

The initiative recommends that local authorities commission a range of support in the community including the health visiting service, peer support and access to a breastfeeding specialist for complex cases, in line with NICE guidance.

The report acknowledges that there are ‘excellent pockets’ in support services around the country, but many essential peer support programmes have been cut.

Professor Russell Viner, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said that the government isn’t fulfilling its responsibility for baby feeding. ‘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,’ he said.

The report also recommends that the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) sets detailed minimum training standards on infant feeding for nurses based on the Unicef
UK Baby Friendly Initiative curriculum and that there is a high standard of training and support through health and community services.

Emma Pickett from the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, said that breastfeeding initiation rates show UK mothers want to breastfeed. ‘We need the final step – the will of all local and national governments, their commitment, their resources, their leadership,’ she added.

The report includes a ‘scorecard’ for each UK country, rating them out of 10 on a variety of indicators. England scored just 1/10, Wales scored 4/10 while Scotland and Northern Ireland scored 10/10, with infant feeding and infant health underpinning health programmes.

The World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative UK Working Group consists of nearly 20 organisations, including the Institute of Health Visiting, the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, Public Health England and the Department of Health.

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