Breastfeeding rates in Scotland ‘remain low’

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Breastfeeding rates in Scotland “remain low” compared to other countries, a new report has found.

NHS statistics on infants born in 2017-18 showed by the time babies are given their six to eight week check up, 28% had been exclusively breast fed since birth.

Health visitors working with new parents recorded just over half (51%) of babies were being given breast milk at their first check up at 10 to 14 days – with up from 44% in 2001-02.

Just over a third (36%) of youngsters were fed only with breast milk at this stage, with 15% being given both this and formula milk.

But by six to eight weeks old, the proportion being breastfed fell to 42% with 11% receiving both breast and formula milk and 31% exclusively breast fed.

The report said: “The proportion of babies being breastfed at six to eight weeks of age has increased from 36% of babies born in 2001-02 to 42% of babies born in 2017-18.

“However, breastfeeding rates in Scotland remain low compared to those seen in other countries, and fall far short of recommended levels.”

It added breastfeeding was “much more common among older mothers, and those from less deprived areas”.

Of those babies whose mothers were aged 40 or above, 56% were being breastfed – either wholly or in part – at six to eight weeks old, compared to 13% of babies whose mothers were under the age of 20.

Meanwhile 60% of babies in the least deprived areas were receiving breast milk when they were six to eight weeks old, compared to 28% of infants in the most deprived areas.

Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Breastfeeding gives babies the best chance of a healthy start in life. It’s disheartening to see rates of breastfeeding plateau well below the levels we’d like to see.

“We know that midwives and NHS staff do what they can to inform new mothers about the benefits of breastfeeding. But more needs to be done given the majority of young mothers are not breastfeeding and huge disparities based on levels deprivation persist.

“We need to address this health inequality and increase the pace of change for the next generation. We know that intervention works and the check-up is an opportunity to assist mothers who are struggling to breastfeed.”

Public health minister Joe FitzPatrick said it was “hugely encouraging that across Scotland more than half of the babies born in 2017-18 were being breastfed at their first health visitor check”.

He added: “The proportion of babies being fed any breast milk at their first visit has also steadily increased year on year for more than 10 years.

“These statistics also show that 42% of babies born in 2017-18 were being breastfed at their six to eight week review, of which 31% were being exclusively breastfed. This represents the highest percentage of babies being exclusively breastfed at six to eight weeks since recording began.

“We are continuing to support women to breastfeed as the normal nutrition for babies and we recently announced the provision of additional funding of more than £2 million for breastfeeding support.

“This will enable NHS Boards and third sector partners to improve the quality of support and experiences of mothers.”

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