Hundreds of Leicestershire mums stop breastfeeding within two months contrary to NHS advice, new figures show.
Between January and March 2018, GPs in Leicestershire asked 1,673 mothers at their six-to-eight week checkup how they were feeding their babies.
The figures, released by Public Health England, show that 895 mothers said they were not breastfeeding at all.
NHS guidelines recommend that babies are exclusively breastfed for up to six months at least.
They say breastfeeding reduces a baby’s risk of infection, sudden infant death syndrome, childhood leukaemia and even heart disease in adulthood.
Breastfeeding also has numerous health benefits for mothers, including lowering the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis.
Around 31% of the babies in Leicestershire were fed exclusively with breast milk, and 14% were partially breastfed.
Breastfeeding rates in the area are roughly average. In England, 30% of babies aged six to eight weeks are exclusively breastfed.
PHE lead nurse Wendy Nicholson said: “Breastfeeding provides the best nutritional start in life and is something that mothers and babies learn together.
“But we know that some mothers may need support, advice and encouragement to help them continue with breastfeeding.”
“Health visitors, midwives and other health care professionals are well placed to link women to support within their local areas.”
According to Dr Mary Fewtrell, nutrition lead at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, it’s not just parents that need education and support.
She said: “Adding things to the national curriculum is tricky, but it would be good to normalise the idea of humans feeding their babies like other mammals do.
“That could be introduced to children very early on. Throughout the education system breastfeeding should be discussed and normalised.”
Children’s charity Unicef UK runs a Baby Friendly Initiative that aims to create a “culture of breastfeeding” across all areas of the UK.
As part of the initiative, hospitals that pass Unicef assessment can be accredited as “baby friendly” and receive awards for their standards of maternity care, which includes encouraging breastfeeding.
Mothers-to-be can then look up their local hospital online and compare them to other providers in the area.
According to Baby Friendly Initiative advisor Francesca Entwistle, these schemes can only do so much, particularly in local communities.
She said: “You can’t just tell a woman to breastfeed. It’s not an individual issue for women, it’s a societal issue.
“We live in a culture where bottle feeding is the norm. In some places you have fourth generation bottle feeders.
“We need a more systematic, nationally led culture shift in the way we feed our babies.”