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Monday, May 17, 1999 Published at 08:16 GMT 09:16 UK


Mothers told 'breast milk is best'

Breast milk is thought to be best for babies

Public health minister Tessa Jowell launches a campaign on Monday to encourage more mothers to breastfeed their babies.

The week-long campaign will portray mother's milk as the ultimate "designer food".

The government is concerned that the number of women who breastfeed their babies is fewer in the UK than in many other European countries.

Despite overwhelming medical evidence showing breast milk is superior to formula milk, only two thirds of British mothers choose to breastfeed after birth - compared with nearly 100% in Scandinavian countries.

Public health minister Tessa Jowell has joined forces with Unicef to launch National Breastfeeding Awareness Week.

Ms Jowell announced that an extra £1m would be spent on promoting breastfeeding and other infant feeding initiatives. She also announced the appointment of two national Infant Feeding Advisors, one a practising midwive and the other a practising health visitor.

The two Infant Feeding Advisors will jointly chair the National Network of Breastfeeding Co-ordinators.

Ms Jowell said: "A mother's breast milk is the ultimate designer food for babies. If each mother's breast milk came in a bottle it would have a designer label.

"Only a mother can produce breast milk that is exclusively designed for her baby."

Figures show that breastfeeding rates fall dramatically among British mothers shortly after birth with just 27% continuing after four months.

The campaign, which is part of Unicef's UK Baby Friendly Initiative, will aim to encourage more "baby friendly" policies among retailers, employers and health professionals.

Andrew Radford, director of the project, said: "National surveys show that most women want to breastfeed but they often stop before they want to. We want mothers to get the support they need to give their babies the best start."

Rich in nutrients

Medical experts say breast milk provides all the nutrients a baby needs for a healthy start to life along with a range of other health benefits for both mother and baby.

  • Breastfeeding protects babies against gastro-enteritis, ear and chest infections, eczema, wheezing and childhood diabetes
  • Anti-bodies are passed from the mother into her breast milk, protecting the baby against illnesses for up to a year if the infant is breastfed for three to four months
  • Researchers have found that breastfed infants are less likely to suffer constipation and their nappies are less smelly
  • The composition of breast milk changes as the baby grows, adjusting to give the nutrients the baby needs

The Government says the breastfeeding rate is particularly low among Britain's poor, with just 50% of mothers in the lowest income bracket breastfeeding their baby at birth, compared with more than 90% in the highest income level.

London and the South East has the highest post-birth breastfeeding rates with 76%.

[ image: Tessa Jowell wants more mothers to breastfeed their babies]
Tessa Jowell wants more mothers to breastfeed their babies
In Scotland, the level falls to 55% and reaches just 45% in Northern Ireland. The national average is 66%.

By four months, only 33% of babies are breastfed in the South East, 24% in Scotland and 12% in Northern Ireland.

Mothers who breastfeed are at a lower risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer and hip fractures later in life. American researchers have found the risk of breast cancer can be reduced by up to 25% by breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding mothers also get their figures back more quickly than those who bottle-feed because the process helps the womb to contract.

Health experts say breastfeeding creates a closer bond between mother and child as well as being cheaper and relieving parents of the chore of sterilising and heating bottles.

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