The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has now called for breastfeeding to be added to the curriculum so children can learn it is natural and the best source of nutrition for a baby.
Girls should be taught how to breastfeed at school, experts have urged after a new analysis revealed the UK still has one of the lowest rates in the world. Just 81 per cent of babies in the UK are fed ‘the natural way’ – meaning 150,000 are missing out on breast milk each year, according to data from Unicef.
This is despite repeated Government campaigns to boost rates and NHS guidance that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months. Unicef, which assessed breastfeeding rates from 123 countries, claim nearly eight million babies across the world are missing out on being breastfed each year.
The charity discovered Ireland has the lowest rates, at just 55 per cent. In contrast, Sri Lanka tops the charts, with 99.4 per cent of mothers breastfeeding. Spain (77 per cent), the US (74.4 per cent) and France (63 per cent) are also placed in the bottom five for breastfeeding rates, according to the data.
MailOnline has today sifted through the 13-page report to reveal the 10 countries with the highest and lowest rates of breastfeeding.
Ireland has the lowest rates of breastfeeding on the planet, a new analysis today revealed. Just 55 per cent of babies on the Emerald Isle have been fed ‘the natural way’ at least once
Breast milk contains antibodies passed on from the mother, which boost a baby’s immune system and help it fight infections and viruses. There is also evidence that breastfed babies have higher IQs and are less at risk of obesity – because formula milk is higher in fat.
Breastfeeding is also deemed beneficial for the mother because it enables her to bond with the newborn. It also enables her to lose weight, as nursing mothers burn up to 500 calories a day extra.
Yet despite numerous ‘breast is best’ campaigns by the Government and the NHS, rates have barely improved in recent years. The NHS recommends babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months and after that given a combination of breast milk and food for about a year.
Sue Ashmore, of Unicef UK’s Baby Friendly Initiative, said: ‘The UK has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world and it is a highly emotive subject.
‘Many women have not breastfed, or have experienced the trauma of trying very hard to breastfeed and not succeeding.
‘It is time to stop laying the blame for the UK’s low breastfeeding rates in the laps of individual women.’
She added that it is a public health imperative, for which the ‘Government, policy makers, communities and families all share responsibility’.
THE 10 COUNTRIES WITH THE LOWEST RATES OF BREASTFEEDING
The Unicef figures, which are estimates, revealed a huge disparity in breastfeeding rates between rich and poor countries.
An estimated 21 per cent of babies in high-income countries are never breastfed. But in low- and middle-income countries, the rate is just four per cent.
Bhutan (99.3 per cent), Nepal (99.1 per cent) and Madagascar (99 per cent) were the only other countries, alongside Sri Lanka, to breach the 99 per cent mark.
Professor Russell Viner, president of the RCPCH, said: ‘We know that many women want to breastfeed and although it’s natural, it doesn’t always come naturally.
‘Breastfeeding rates decrease markedly over the first weeks following birth – 81 per cent of mothers in the UK initiate breastfeeding but only 34 per cent still breastfeeding at 6 months.
IS BREAST REALLY BEST?
Breast milk contains antibodies passed on from the mother, which boost a baby’s immune system and help it fight infections and viruses.
There is also evidence that breastfed babies have higher IQs and are less at risk of obesity – because formula milk is higher in fat.
Breastfeeding is also deemed beneficial for the mother because it enables her to bond with the newborn.
It also enables her to lose weight, as nursing mothers burn up to 500 calories a day extra.
‘That’s why it’s important women are supported to breastfeed before and after they have their baby – health visiting services are a vital tool but with cuts to public services, we have concerns that much of this support is being lost.
‘The Government must invest in these services or breastfeeding rates will decline further and child health will suffer as a result.’
He added: ‘Society as a whole also has a role to play. Women should be able to breastfeed whenever and wherever their baby needs without feeling anxious or being verbally abused.
‘Public facing campaigns are one way of changing attitudes but so too will education.
‘Children need to learn from a young age that breastfeeding is natural and the best source of nutrition for a baby – Personal Social Health Education in all schools will do this and must be added to the curriculum quickly.’
Clare Livingstone, professional policy advisor at The Royal College of Midwives, said: ‘There is no doubt that the UK along with many other countries needs to improve its breastfeeding rates.
‘Typically the number of women who start breastfeeding in the UK is at around 80 per cent, but unfortunately after a couple of weeks this number falls dramatically.
‘Low breastfeeding rates in parts of the UK unfortunately indicate a much bigger social and cultural problem that needs to be tackled.
‘There are some areas where many generations of women haven’t been given the example of breastfeeding or offered the right support to enable them to initiate and sustain breastfeeding if the can and chose to do so.’