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Breastfeeding awareness week dropped by Department of Health

The Department of Health has dropped funding for National Breastfeeding Awareness Week due to budget constraints.

The government has stepped back from a campaign launched 18 years ago to encourage new mothers to start and continue breastfeeding, in spite of the low proportion of women who breastfeed their babies in the UK for any length of time.
National Breastfeeding Awareness Week, which begins on Monday, is no longer receiving central funds from the Department of Health. Events will take place around the country, organised by local hospitals or groups such as the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), but there will be no central co-ordination or national campaign, which the Royal College of Midwives said was "very disappointing".
The Department of Health, which has cut back on all forms of social marketing, is said to be reviewing the situation. But also worrying campaigners is the disappearance of a network of regional infant feeding co-ordinators who were based in the strategic health authorities which are now being abolished.
Yet organisations involved with new mothers, such as the royal colleges of midwives and nurses as well as the NCT, say the battle to increase breastfeeding rates is far from won. New figures, to be published next week, are likely to show an increase in the number of women who start to breastfeed their baby, but are not expected to show a big shift in the numbers who continue to do so even close to the six months recommended by the World Health Organisation and endorsed by the UK government.
The last official breastfeeding figures were published in 2007, and showed only a 2% increase over the previous 20 years. Less than half – 48% – of mothers were breastfeeding at six weeks. Only a quarter of mothers were breastfeeding at six months. Exclusive breastfeeding was highest among women from professional and managerial occupations, aged over 30 and with higher levels of education. Most women were willing to try – before the birth, 70% of women said they would like to breastfeed and 84% said they were aware of the health benefits.
A new survey from a leading breastfeeding product manufacturer, appears to bear out the willingness of most women to attempt to breastfeed. Nearly 87% of the 1,400 women who responded to their online survey said they did or would breastfeed for "the health benefits of my baby" and almost all – 98% – thought "breast is best". A substantial proportion – 40% – felt that they had received good support from midwives and health visitors. Some 30% had "early issues" that were overcome, but 20% felt they had to deal with it on their own.
Unicef, which runs the Baby Friendly Initiative, accrediting hospitals and maternity units that offer good supportive breastfeeding care, says that more training is needed for health visitors and midwives. It has just accredited the first health visitor course, at Bolton University, which has a specific two-day training module on breastfeeding.
Rosie Dodds, senior policy advisor at the NCT, said another issue is that some women are deterred still from breastfeeding in public, in spite of the Equality Act passed last year which specifically protects their right to feed in cafes and other public places. "Women are hesitant about it," she said, "especially the youngest and least confident women."
The Department of Health said: "Due to reduced budgets this year, the department is unable to offer any funding for National Breastfeeding Week." However, it said it valued and encouraged the support and information available to health professionals and parents through NHS Choices, the National Breastfeeding Helpline, Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative and peer support programmes. "The department recognises the importance of breastfeeding both for the mother and her baby and we continue to support breastfeeding through the Healthy Child Programme, as set out in the Public Health White Paper. The coalition government has made the challenging commitment to an extra 4,200 health visitors by 2015. Health visitors will be able to help support women who want to breastfeed but may find it difficult."
Reported by: The Guardian 17th June 2011

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