The importance of breastfeeding should be taught to schoolchildren as young as 11, doctors have suggested.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) is calling for schools to teach children about the benefits of breastfeeding as part of compulsory personal, social and health education (PSHE) lessons which are taught at secondary school.
A new position paper on breastfeeding has also urged the Government to bring in regulation that would ensure employers support breastfeeding through parental leave, feeding breaks and facilities for feeding or expressing milk.
The UK has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world, with only 40% of babies still breastfeeding at six to eight weeks.
A study from 2010 found that only 34% of babies in the UK are receiving some breast milk at six months, compared with 49% in the US and 71% in Norway.
The announcement comes at the beginning of World Breastfeeding Week, which starts today.
RCPCH president, Professor Neena Modi, said: “World Breastfeeding Week is 25 years old today, but the UK has little to celebrate in terms of its record.”
“The health benefits of breastfeeding are beyond question, from reduced likelihood of intestinal, respiratory and ear infections to hospitalisation.”
She went on to suggest that lack of support and social stigma towards breastfeeding was having a negative impact on breastfeeding rates in the UK.
“Regrettably the attitudes of a large part of society mean breastfeeding is not always encouraged; local support is patchy, advice is not always consistent and often overly dogmatic, support in the workplace not always conducive to continued breastfeeding and perhaps most worryingly breastfeeding in public is still often stigmatised. It is no wonder that for many mothers, there are too many barriers.”
But Professor Modi also acknowledged the fact that breastfeeding isn’t always possible for mothers.
“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,” she added.
“Some mothers cannot, or choose not to, breastfeed and this also needs to be respected.
That’s something that ChannelMum.com founder Siobhan Freegard agrees with.
“All mums are already aware that breast is best – but endlessly repeating the message isn’t helping UK breastfeeding rates go up. Instead, there needs to be better intensive support in the first week after birth to help women learn how to breastfeed,” she tells Yahoo Style UK.
“There also needs to be less judgement when women can’t breastfeed. No one wants to feel like a failure on their first few steps into the journey of motherhood. Yes breast is best – but fed is fine too, even if it’s bottle or mixed feeding.”
A survey of 2,000 mums conducted by Channel Mum in September 2016 revealed that over half (55%) of mums say the pressure to breastfeed is now too heavy, with 15% feeling forced to lie to pretend to breastfeed.
The research also found that 57% of UK mothers struggle to get the right support to breastfeed successfully. And while half of mums (50%) now turn to online videos and tutorials for support, 28 per cent found the films made them more stressed by presenting breastfeeding as easy.
So can teaching schoolchildren about the benefits of breastfeeding be considered a solution to the UK’s low breastfeeding rates?
Dr Anshu Bhagat, NHS GP and founder of GPDQ, the UK’s first doctor-on-demand app, believes educating children could have a role to play but believes supporting mothers is equally as important.
“There’s definitely a role that secondary education can play in educating students on parenting issues, as long as it’s done responsibly,” he tells Yahoo Style UK.
“Explaining why women produce breast milk, and what the benefits of breastfeeding are should definitely be a part of this. What should also be taught is that breastfeeding is incredibly individual – no two breasts are the same – just as no two babies are, and that every new mum – not just first-time mums – need support to ensure they are given the best possible chance to breastfeed.”
“If more support during those first two weeks was offered as standard, it would mean less mums find themselves feeling a sense of failure, or guilt, which can then impact their relationship wither their child,” he continues.
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