Breastfeeding is one of those topics that all parents have a view on. Whether you love it or hate it, the NHS, the World Health Organisation and UNICEF all recommend breastfeeding to give babies the best start in life.
However, practices on the ground in the UK and further afield are very far from ideal. Recent UK data on breastfeeding from the Infant Feeding Survey suggests that the numbers of women who start breastfeeding shortly after birth are high (81%), but this falls to 34% by six months, and only 1% of these babies are exclusively breast fed. But the numbers of women in the UK and in other countries such as Ireland, France, Germany, Japan, and Canada who then go on to continue to breastfeed remain stubbornly low. Rates of exclusive breastfeeding at six-months-old in the UK are so low that national surveys cite them as “negligible” and don’t even report on rates at nine or 12 months.
Clearly there is a very long way to go before breastfeeding rates reach anywhere near the recommended levels. So what can we do to increase breastfeeding rates? Interventions before and after birth that aim to develop knowledge and skills, bust myths and manage expectations could help – but who should they be aimed at? While it might seem sensible for maternity services to focus their attention solely on mothers, the evidence suggests that fathers also have an important role to play.
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