More needs to be done to highlight the benefits of breastfeeding to expectant mothers, East Antrim MLA and UUP health spokesperson Roy Beggs has said.
Mr Beggs was speaking during was the recent Breastival event in Belfast, organised to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week.
“The World Health Organisation (WHO) have expressed concern at the low rates of breastfeeding in Europe which was adversely affecting health,” he said.
“There seems to be a societal lack of awareness that breastfeeding has been scientifically proven to benefit both the mother and child. As well as increasing bonding between mother and child, breastmilk contains important antibodies, hormones, anti-viruses, anti-allergies, anti-parasites, growth factors and enzymes which are absent from formula milk.
“Benefits for breastfed infants include reduced risk of infections, obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, in addition to a reduced likelihood of allergies. It is important that we as a society try to encourage and support mums who breastfeed. Long term health benefits for mothers include reduced risks for cancer and obesity."
Research by UNICEF shows that the United Kingdom has the second lowest rate of breastfeeding in Europe. Within the UK, Northern Ireland had the lowest breastfeeding initiation rate at 64%, compared to 71% in Wales, 74% in Scotland and 83% in England. Scandinavian countries have rates of over 90% by comparison.
“More needs to be done to set out the benefits of breast milk to expectant mothers,” Mr Beggs added. “More support is needed in hospital with ongoing support and encouragement at home vital to improve uptake rates. It is important for husbands and partners to recognise the benefits of breastfeeding so that they too are supportive.”
"There needs to be greater awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding and to normalise breastfeeding in the 21st century, with all the health benefits.”