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Myths stop women giving babies the best start in life

OnMedica Editorial

Tuesday, 11 May 2004

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A survey published by the Department of Health (DoH) for National Breastfeeding Awareness Week (9-15 May) shows that serious misunderstandings may be stopping women, particularly young women, from breastfeeding. Although the benefits of breastfeeding are well known, the UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe. Almost a third of women (29%) in England and Wales never try to breastfeed compared to 2% in Sweden. Younger women in particular are less likely to breastfeed with over 40% of mothers under 24 never trying. The survey was undertaken by NOP World, 15 - 25 April 2004 among 1048 women aged 16+, using telephone methodology. Weighting was applied to the data to bring it in line with national profiles.

The new survey shows the discrepancies between belief and facts very clearly.

  • Myth: Over a third (34%) of women believe that modern infant formula milks are very similar or the same as breast milk. Fact: Infant formula milk does not contain the antibodies, living cells, enzymes or hormones present in breastmilk. Breastmilk is designed for each individual baby and changes over time whereas infant formula milk is designed for every baby.
  • Myth: A fifth (20%) of young women aged 16-24 years believe that breastfeeding will ruin the shape of their breasts/body. Fact: Breastfeeding uses up 500 extra calories a day. It helps the womb return back to normal and does not affect the shape of breasts in the long term.
  • Myth: Over two thirds (67%) of women believe that the general public find breastfeeding in public unacceptable. Fact: Most people (84%)think it's fine for mothers to breastfeed their babies discreetly in public/in front of others.
  • Myth: Nearly all (95%) women believe that breastfeeding comes naturally to some and not to others. Fact: Breastfeeding is a skill and takes practice. It is important that women feel able to ask for help.
  • Myth: Nearly all women (87%) believe that some women don't produce enough milk to be able to breastfeed. Fact: Virtually all mothers can breastfeed provided they have accurate information and support.

Minister for Public Health, Melanie Johnson, says: "Breastfeeding is a major public health issue. A decision to breastfeed, especially if sustained for the first six months of a baby's life, can make a major contribution to infant health and development as well as benefiting mums. Our message is a simple one - if you are an expectant or new mum don't let these myths discourage you from giving breastfeeding a go!"

'Give it a Go' is the theme of National Breastfeeding Awareness Week this year which focusses on encouraging those with the lowest breastfeeding rates such as the young and those in disadvantaged areas to start breastfeeding. Among events planned are a series of evening presentations at Mothercare stores where health professionals will explain the benefits of breastfeeding and answer questions.

The Government is committed to the promotion of breastfeeding as the best form of nutrition for infants and aims to increase breastfeeding rates by two percentage points per annum, with a specific focus on women from disadvantaged groups. In addition, Healthy Start (the planned reform of the Welfare Food Scheme) will offer mothers greater choice and encourage increased initiation and duration of breastfeeding.

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