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Tuesday, May 19, 1998 Published at 22:07 GMT 23:07 UK

Health: Latest News

Breast is best - and cheaper too

Powdered milk is popular in the UK, but is it the healthiest option?

The NHS could save £35 million a year if all babies were breastfed, according to Unicef which is launching a seven-point Baby Friendly Initiative.

Gastroenteritis in babies costs £35 million a year in England and Wales and breastfeeding protects against it and other childhood illnesses, says Unicef.

It also reduces the risk of mothers getting breast and ovarian cancer before they hit the menopause. And it protects against hip fractures in later life.

Unicef's UK campaign is part of a worldwide effort to raise awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding.

UK lags behind

The UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe. Just 66 per cent of mothers breastfeed at birth, compared with 100 per cent in Scandinavia.

And rates drop off rapidly after birth. Just 27 per cent of UK mothers breastfeed after the fourth month.

Unicef says figures for breastfeeding vary according to social class, education and region. Many women feel they have little support or encouragement to breastfeed.

Unicef's seven point plan sets out examples of good practice for community health staff, including information on education, awareness raising and the providing a welcoming atmosphere for breastfeeding mothers.

Twenty-one pilot sites have been set up to promote the plan. It follows a similar "baby friendly initiative" in hospitals.

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