Schoolchildren 'should be taught about breastfeeding'

Schools should teach children about the importance of breastfeeding, according to new guidance.

Schools should teach children about the importance of breastfeeding, according to new guidance.

Familiarity with breastfeeding should be part of school education, says the
Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. Picture: Alamy

'Familiarity with breastfeeding' should be part of personal, health and social education in schools, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said.

A new position paper on breastfeeding, released at the start of World Breastfeeding Week, also calls on ministers to legislate for breastfeeding breaks and for facilities to be provided in all workplaces for breastfeeding or expressing breast milk.

The college said the UK has 'little to celebrate in terms of its record on breastfeeding'.

Low rate

It said Britain has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in Europe and criticised data collection surrounding breastfeeding.

The RCPCH called on the government to reinstate the UK-wide Infant Feeding Survey, which was cancelled in 2015.

Data from 2010 show that 34% of babies are receiving some breast milk at six months of age, compared with 49% in the US and 71% in Norway.

At a year old this figure fell to 0.5%.

Social stigma

Figures for England in 2015-16 show that while almost three-quarters of mothers started breastfeeding, this fell to 43.2% when babies were between six and eight weeks old.

The document suggests that social stigma is at the heart of UK's low breastfeeding rate.

Societal attitudes may lead to women feeling uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public or in the presence of peers and family members.


Meanwhile, maternal concern about whether an infant is receiving sufficient milk may result in reinforcement from friends, family and health professionals to 'supplement' with formula, which undermines maternal milk production, the RCPCH said.

The new RCPCH guidance also highlights the health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child, as well as the cost savings to families and health services.

The college advises that mothers should be encouraged and supported to breastfeed exclusively for up to six months and solid food should be introduced from six months, ideally alongside breastfeeding, to ensure the infant has adequate nutrition.

Meanwhile, mothers may experience practical problems in establishing breastfeeding, and fail to access or receive adequate practical support.

Removing barriers

RCPCH president Neena Modi said: 'With the right support and guidance, the vast majority of women should be able to breastfeed. But although it's natural, it doesn't always come naturally. Some mothers cannot, or choose not to, breastfeed and this also needs to be respected. What society must get better at is removing the multiple barriers which can stand in the way of breastfeeding.'

The RCPCH has also called on the NHS in England and the Welsh government to ensure all maternity services achieve and maintain the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative accreditation. This requirement is currently met by all maternity units in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

A poll by the website Mumsnet of 1,030 mothers found that three-quarters said they believed that there was 'too much emphasis on telling women why they should breastfeed, and not enough on supporting them to breastfeed'.

Further information

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