More than 70% of new mothers in Sunderland stop breastfeeding within two months, figures show

Majority in Sunderland only breastfeeding for first two months.
Majority in Sunderland only breastfeeding for first two months.
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In Sunderland more than 70% of new mothers stop breastfeeding within two months, contrary to NHS advice.

Between January and March 2018, GPs in Sunderland asked 710 mothers at their six-to-eight week check-up how they were feeding their babies.

The figures, released by Public Health England, show that 534 mothers said they were not breastfeeding at all.

NHS guidelines recommend that babies are exclusively breastfed for up to six months at least.

They say breastfeeding reduces a baby’s risk of infection, sudden infant death syndrome, childhood leukaemia and even heart disease in adulthood.

Breastfeeding also has numerous health benefits for mothers, including lowering the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis.

Around 15% of the babies in Sunderland were fed exclusively with breast milk, and 9% were partially breastfed.

Breastfeeding rates in Sunderland are low compared with the rest of England, where 30% of babies aged six to eight weeks are exclusively breastfed – rising to nearly 60% in some areas.

PHE lead nurse Wendy Nicholson said: “Breastfeeding provides the best nutritional start in life and is something that mothers and babies learn together.

“But we know that some mothers may need support, advice and encouragement to help them continue with breastfeeding.”

“Health visitors, midwives and other health care professionals are well placed to link women to support within their local areas.”

According to Dr Mary Fewtrell, nutrition lead at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, it’s not just parents that need education and support.

She said: “Adding things to the national curriculum is tricky, but it would be good to normalise the idea of humans feeding their babies like other mammals do.

“That could be introduced to children very early on. Throughout the education system breastfeeding should be discussed and normalised.”

Children’s charity Unicef UK runs a Baby Friendly Initiative that aims to create a “culture of breastfeeding” across all areas of the UK.

As part of the initiative, hospitals that pass Unicef assessment can be accredited as “baby friendly” and receive awards for their standards of maternity care, which includes encouraging breastfeeding.

Mothers-to-be can then look up their local hospital online and compare them to other providers in the area.

According to Baby Friendly Initiative advisor Francesca Entwistle, these schemes can only do so much, particularly in local communities.

She said: “You can’t just tell a woman to breastfeed. It’s not an individual issue for women, it’s a societal issue.

“We live in a culture where bottle feeding is the norm. In some places you have fourth generation bottle feeders.

“We need a more systematic, nationally led culture shift in the way we feed our babies.”