The benefits of breastfeeding for babies are widely discussed, but new official figures have revealed breastfeeding rates in England have dropped.
According to statistics from Public Health England from 2017-18 data, just over four in 10 mothers (42.7%) are still breastfeeding their babies when they are six weeks old.
The rate was 43.1% in 2015-16 and 43.8% for 2014-15.
This means that the number of women breastfeeding their babies six to eight weeks after birth has fallen to the lowest level since 2014.
The figures also reveal that breastfeeding rates vary significantly by region.
Eight in 10 babies were being breastfed at this age in Tower Hamlets in London compared to less than one in five (18.9%) in Knowsley, Merseyside.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), recommends children should be fed only breast milk for the first six months of their lives, and feeding should continue until they’re at least two years old.
Meanwhile the NHS suggests that mothers breastfeed their babies during the first six months, explaining the feeding method has long-term benefits for the baby that last right into adulthood.
According to Start4Life, the benefits of breastfeeding include protection from infections, and nutritional balance, while breastfed babies have a lower chance of sudden infant death syndrome, childhood leukaemia and allergies, and are less likely to develop diabetes or become overweight when they are older.
Professor Viv Bennett, chief nurse at Public Health England added: “Breastfeeding provides the best nutritional start in life and is something that mothers and babies learn together.
“We know some mothers may need support and encouragement to help them start and continue with breastfeeding.
“That’s why we offer trusted advice to parents through our Start4Life campaign resources and to midwives and health visitors through professional guidance.’
But after years of campaigns encouraging women to breastfeed, experts have recently started to warn that new mums could be being placed under too much pressure to adopt the feeding method.
New advice from the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) released earlier this year stresses that new mothers should be given appropriate support if they make an informed decision to bottle feed.
The guidance marks a shift in position from previous advice emphasising the ‘risks’ of formula feeding while also focussing on the benefits of breastfeeding.
The drop in breastfeeding rates comes as a new study revealed that breastfed babies could go on to earn more as adults.
A study, of 9,000 people and led by Queen’s University Belfast, found that those participants who were breastfed as babies had a 10% higher household income when they were over 50.
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