This year May 19th-25th was designated National Breastfeeding Week. Health professionals and lay breastfeeding supporters have been taking part in special events, promotions and coffee mornings, as well as providing stalls that offer information about breastfeeding. Some commercial organisations have also been promoting the week.Why is National Breastfeeding Week needed?In the past women grew up seeing breastfeeding as a normal and natural part of life. They saw their mothers, sisters, aunts and friends breastfeed and felt confident in their ability to do it. They knew if problems arose they would be looked after and encouraged and they knew how to overcome difficulties.Infant formulas were first developed in the1800s. Although originally intended as substitute nutrition for babies when human milk was not available, manufactured breastmilk substitutes were then promoted to the general public, who were given the impression they were an improvement on breastmilk. Wanting to do the best for their babies more women started to bottlefeed and they lost confidence in their ability to breastfeed. Breastfeeding as a way of nurturing a baby became something many women no longer felt was natural and normal.Have things improved?In recent years it has been recognised that breastmilk cannot be replicated and the “healthy” ingredients added to formula are man-made, not the living substances in breastmilk which can interact with an individual baby and are easily digestible.Although breastfeeding initiation rates have improved – In GB an average of around 74% of women start to breastfeed – there are still a large number of women who stop in the first few weeks. The breastfeeding rate has dropped to 47% at six weeks. 25% are breastfeeding at six months but only 2% of women are exclusively breastfeeding at that time. Breastfeeding often seems to be under attackThe main causes of early, unintended cessation of breastfeeding are difficulties in latching the baby, worries about milk supply and sore nipples and breasts. The right support and information in overcoming these early challenges can make all the difference. However there are others things which still erode a woman’s confidence in breastfeeding. Breastfeeding when out in a public space causes concern to many women and media stories about the negative treatment of breastfeeding mothers adds to worries about this.In addition the media often seems to focus on negative studies about breastfeeding and articles which either raise unsubstantiated concerns or report unpleasant experiences of breastfeeding.Changing attitudesBreastfeeding hasn’t got more difficult but women have lost the knowledge and confidence to do it. Until there is adequate support for all women who want to breastfeed, complete acceptance of breastfeeding in public spaces and flexible working hours for breastfeeding mothers returning to paid work, we will continue to need National Breastfeeding Week.How to contact La Leche LeagueLa Leche League is an organisation which was started over 55 years ago to offer mother-to-mother support for breastfeeding. LLL Leaders will listen to a mother and offer accurate information. We won’t try to tell a woman what to do but offer up-to-date information so she can make the right choices for herself and her baby. La Leche League GB provides telephone counseling via our national telephone helpline (0845 120 2 918), email support and local group meetings. We have leaflets answering a wide range of breastfeeding questions, information on more unusual situations, access to a panel of professional medical advisors, and books covering various aspects of pregnancy and child care. Our website (www.laleche.org.uk) includes an online help form that enables a mother to receive non-urgent email help from an LLL Leader. Find us on Facebook via our national Breastfeeding Matters page, and many local group pages. All our Leaders are volunteers and answer enquiries from home while looking after their own families.
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