Doctors call for pupils to be taught about breastfeeding

The UK has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA

Doctors have called for pupils to be taught about breastfeeding in schools as part of a plan to try and reverse the low rate of breastfeeding in the UK.

According to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) "familiarity with breastfeeding" should be made a part of personal, health and social education in secondary schools for pupils aged 11 and up.

The recommendation to start educating Britons about breastfeeding earlier has been made in a new position paper on breastfeeding aimed at trying to change society's negative attitudes to the practice.

Other suggestions made in the paper include calls on ministers to legislate for breastfeeding breaks and to provide suitable facilities in workplaces for breastfeeding or expressing breast milk.

Why have the new recommendations been made?

The proposals put forward to try and combat falling breastfeeding rates come amid concerns that the UK has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world, with only 40% of babies still receiving their mother's milk at six to eight weeks.

Data from 2010 also showed that figures in the UK for breastfeeding were substantially behind countries such as the US and Norway.

The document, released to coincide with World Breastfeeding Week, suggests that social stigma is at the heart of the UK's low breastfeeding rate and that attitudes may lead to women feeling uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public or in the presence of peers and family members.

Professor Neena Modi, RCPCH president, said: "World Breastfeeding Week is 25 years old today, but the UK has little to celebrate in terms of its record. The health benefits of breastfeeding are beyond question, from reduced likelihood of intestinal, respiratory and ear infections to hospitalisation.

"Regrettably the attitudes of a large part of society mean breastfeeding is not always encouraged; local support is patchy, advice is not always consistent and often overly dogmatic, support in the workplace not always conducive to continued breastfeeding and perhaps most worryingly breastfeeding in public is still often stigmatised. It is no wonder that for many mothers, there are too many barriers."

The College advises that mothers should be encouraged and supported to breastfeed exclusively for up to six months and solid food should be introduced from six months, ideally alongside breastfeeding, to ensure the infant has adequate nutrition.