Suffolk: Not enough mums breastfeeding

LESS than half of Suffolk’s new mothers breastfeed their babies for the recommended length of time, a healthcare performance report has revealed.

Most women stop breastfeeding by week six of their baby’s life, despite experts encouraging mothers to continue for at least six months.

Of about 1,500 infants due for checks, less than half were breastfed beyond six weeks – a figure which falls way below regional requirements set by NHS Suffolk and the Strategic Health Authority.

A quarterly performance report showed while 2010 saw an increase in the number of women breastfeeding during the six to eight week term, Suffolk was still some distance away from meeting its target.

The county’s primary care trust failed to reach its annual 79.5% objective, with just 46.4% of mothers choosing to breastfeed between week six and week eight.

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Suffolk was last year awarded �85,000 in additional funding to promote breastfeeding among new mothers – part of a �3million Department of Health investment across 32 primary care trusts with low breastfeeding rates.

Part of the funding awarded last year will go to employing a breastfeeding co-ordinator from January and providing training for 20 midwives based at Ipswich and West Suffolk hospitals.

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Since 2008, care trusts have been required to submit quarterly data on the prevalence of breastfeeding at six to eight weeks – a period used as an indicator of child health and wellbeing.

Experts say breastfeeding benefits both mother and baby in the short and long term, and recommend exclusive breastfeeding (not including formula milk, any other liquids or food) for the first six months of a baby’s life.

Research shows babies are more likely to acquire illnesses and infections if not breastfed and are more likely to become obese in later childhood. Cancer studies also suggest mothers who do not breastfeed have an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers and may find it more difficult to return to their pre-pregnancy weight. But the UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates worldwide.

Michael Hattrell, the county’s health improvement manager, said that while Suffolk was the third best-performing trust in the East of England, more must be done to meet required targets, especially in areas like Haverhill and Brandon.

He said: “In more deprived areas, there can be an issue surrounding knowledge and support. We want to increase awareness and have already seen a huge uptake in mothers attending support groups.

“Awareness among young mothers can depend on the culture and family they are brought up in. Fathers and other family members should be involved in discussions about feeding.

“It could be years before we get to our target and there is a lot of work to be done in changing perceptions.”

In the last three months, Suffolk has seen a 5% increase in mothers breastfeeding between six and eight weeks.

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