Breastfeeding should be taught in schools - UK doctors

Breastfeeding should be taught in schools - UK doctors
Photo credit: AP

It's World Breastfeeding Week but British doctors say a lack of awareness about breastfeeding is a big problem - and they want it taught in schools.

Breastfeeding rates in the United Kingdom are among the lowest in Europe, with just a third of babies breastfed.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) believes teaching about breastfeeding in schools is a major part of the solution to boosting rates.

It's a view echoed by the New Zealand Breastfeeding Alliance (NZBA).

"We just want to normalise it," NZBA executive officer Jane Cartwright told Newshub.

"Breastfeeding is important, and it's important in terms of people's life-long health."

Medical professionals and scientists say breastfeeding is better for babies than commercial powdered infant formula.

Breast milk protects babies against infections and even diseases including diabetes and some forms of cancer, because a mother's milk contains antibodies and immune cells.

The Lancet reported in January last year that exclusively breastfed infants in low- and middle-income countries had only 12 percent of the risk of death of those who weren't breastfed.

The RCPCH is calling for legislated breastfeeding breaks in the UK, and for suitable facilities to be made available in all workplaces for breastfeeding or expressing breast milk.

The group claims social stigma is behind the UK's low breastfeeding rate, with women feeling uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public or around peers and family.

Its paper on breastfeeding says peer pressure to "supplement" breastmilk with formula undermines maternal milk production - while breastfeeding has health benefits for both mother and child, and saves money for both families and health services.

The RCPCH wants mothers to be encouraged and supported to breastfeed exclusively for up to six months, with solid food to be introduced from six months - ideally alongside breastfeeding - to ensure the infant has adequate nutrition.

What's the situation in New Zealand?

Legislative protection here in Aoteaora is relatively weak.

The Ministry of Health reports that the only binding commitment around breastfeeding comes under general provisions in the 1993 Human Rights Act.

The NZBA's Ms Cartwright doesn't believe more stick is the answer.

"I wouldn't demand that all employers allow breastfeeding because in fact, in my view, the Human Rights Act requires them to do that anyway."

A mother's legal right to breastfeed has never been explicitly affirmed by any New Zealand court.