Fresh efforts are being made in Somerset to encourage more mothers to breastfeed their babies. More antenatal classes and support groups will be set up as well as the roll-out of peer support networks.
Breastfeeding rates in Somerset are already higher than the national average where 49.6 per cent of women in Somerset breastfeed.
That figure is equivalent to 5,378 women.
‘Lots of advantages’
However, young women from more disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to take it up.
Louise Stickland, infant feeding specialist for the NHS in Somerset, said: “Generally the younger the mother is, the earlier she left school, that’s the mother who’s less likely to breastfeed, often because she’s got family around.
“They want to look after the baby and feed the baby. She also may never have seen a baby being breastfed and it’s actually quite alien for people.”
Louise’s role is to find ways of encouraging young mums to try it for themselves.
“It’s very important for infants’ health to breastfeed, it’s one of the best things that mothers can do for their child is to breastfeed because there are lots of advantages.
“Babies are less likely to get allergies, infections, less likely to get dental decay, less likely be obese and generally to be much healthier,” she said.
More antenatal classes are planned during evenings rather than during the day.
The idea is that partners and family members can attend more easily to learn about the benefits of breastfeeding.
A peer support system which has worked successfully in Bridgwater and Yeovil will also be rolled out across the rest of Somerset.
“Mums who have breastfed themselves have special training that we put on and they can then help mums and encourage them to continue breastfeeding.
“If we’ve got a mother who wants to go along to a group, but is a bit nervous about doing so, we can ask a peer supporter who probably lives in the same area to perhaps meet that mum and befriend her and take her along to a group.
“A 16-year-old mum would much rather meet another 16 or 17-year-old mum for help than probably a much older health professional.”
The peer supporter would only be there for support rather than a source for medical advice, which would be left to health professionals.
“It’s a deterrent for some mums when they go into town or out in a public place, where they can breastfed. They just don’t feel comfortable when they are breastfeeding, certainly for the first time when they go out.
“Peer supporters can advise mums on where it’s best to go; they can advise them on where to buy suitable bras; where they can go and relax and change their baby.”
The NHS says if every baby born in Britain was breastfed for three months it could save £50m and health professionals say there are also advantages for mums.
“It’s better for their mental health, they get less post-natal depression because they’re really satisfied and feel they’ve done the best for their babies,” said Louise.
“They’re less likely to get ovarian and breast cancer and later in life if they continue to breastfeed beyond six months, they’re less likely to get osteoporosis because calcium is put back in their bones.”