A major report on maternal and infant nutrition in Scotland has revealed many positive trends, but has cautioned that much work is still need to improve maternal health.
The report, based on a survey of 8,000 parents, said more should be done to help those planning pregnancy to achieve an ideal weight (only 47% were classified as a ‘healthy weight’) and reduce damaging practices such as drinking alcohol and smoking.
Mary Ross-Davie, Royal College of Midwives (RCM) Director for Scotland, said: ‘The RCM welcomes this report, which gives us significantly more information about the important issues of maternal and infant nutrition in Scotland.
‘The report shows that there is still work to do to support women in Scotland to improve their health before they become pregnant.
‘This includes helping to ensure that women are aware of the benefits of going into pregnancy in the best possible health: through having a healthy weight, stopping smoking, reducing alcohol consumption and taking folic acid supplements.’
The report, however, did make for some good reading. Encouragingly, 43% of mothers surveyed were breastfeeding 6 months after birth. This was in contrast to only 32% in 2010.
Breastfeeding for 6 months after birth brings a host of benefits to both child and mother, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Presently, very few countries in the world are meeting the breastfeeding standards set out by the WHO and UNICEF, with the UK being one of the worst offenders.
‘I am encouraged to see that the numbers of women wishing to breastfeed and successfully breastfeeding continues to increase in Scotland,’ said Ross-Davie
‘However, inequalities between the least and most deprived women in our society persist, with women living with deprivation least likely to breastfeed. This highlights the need to continue and redouble our efforts to support women in all communities to understand the benefits of breastfeeding and to be supported to breastfeed if they chose to do so.’
The report also showed that more than half of those who participated in the survey were taking folic acid before coming pregnant, which is helps reduce the risk of birth defects.
On the other hand, 63% of respondents had been given no help or information about their diet or lifestyle habits before becoming pregnant.
The Scottish government’s Minister for Public Health and Sport, Aileen Campbell, said: ‘This survey, the only one of its kind to be carried out anywhere in the UK since 2010, found that there has been welcome progress in encouraging breastfeeding in Scotland.
‘The survey also provides insights into where we can do more, particularly in the early days and weeks after birth.’
Linda Wolfson, Professional Advisor and National Maternal & Infant Nutrition Co-ordinator for the Scottish government, said: ‘There is some really good news to report. There has been progress in many areas including a longer duration of breastfeeding, later introduction of solid foods and an increased uptake of vitamins.
‘However, there is work still to do and there is a continuing inequalities gap. The survey has successfully highlighted these gaps and also shows where the key policies are having an impact.
‘The results provide a solid baseline on which we can build effective interventions.’