FOUR out of five Hartlepool mums stop breastfeeding their children after six weeks – with the majority giving up after just three days.
Town leaders say they have “totally failed” when it comes to boosting the numbers breastfeeding, despite the health benefits to both mother and child.
Calls have now been made for a more radical approach.
Just 46 per cent of women start to breast feed their newborns but that figure is slashed to 21 per cent after six weeks with the majority giving up within three days after birth.
Research shows breastfed children are less likely to become obese and develop type 2 diabetes while it lowers the risk of women getting breast and ovarian cancer and helps them lose weight.
Council and health officials discussed their concerns at a meeting of the shadow health and wellbeing board.
A presentation showed Hartlepool is similar to Middlesbrough in terms of initiation rates but lagging behind Darlington and Gateshead who boast rates of above 60 per cent, which are then maintained beyond six weeks.
Board members put the poor figures down to cultural differences, mums spending less time in hospital after giving birth and negative perceptions.
Independent councillor Cath Hill, portfolio holder for children’s services, said: “We are struggling at every level.
“I believe that breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world but in Hartlepool, breastfeeding is seen as unnatural and abnormal.
“Too many people are willing to give in and I’m sorry to anybody this may upset, but we have totally failed in Hartlepool.”
One concern was that health visitors don’t usually access families until 10 to 12 days after the birth to encourage mothers to breastfeed.
But midwives, who have access to the children from birth, say the support and information is available through them and have called on mums to use it.
Louise Wallace, director of public health, said: “We need to think radically because we are still were we where seven years ago and that is a problem for this board, despite a lot of energy and effort.”
Mrs Wallace said there was a need to think “radically” because “clearly what we are doing isn’t working”.
Danielle Swainston, the council’s Sure Start and early years manager, said: “The majority are stopping between birth and three days.
“It is a short period of time in terms of intervention.
“There is still this concern about breastfeeding in public and there is still a long way to go in terms of places being friendly for breastfeeding.”
Children centre staff have been trained in the benefits of breastfeeding and to encourage mums to do it.
Mrs Swainston added: “The concern goes back to the data showing us that the majority of mothers are already stopping breastfeeding before the health visitor goes in.
“There is a huge amount of work going on but it is frustrating because we are having no impact on the statistics.”
Members heard Gateshead has invested a lot of funding into peer support programmes, something which is also in place in Hartlepool.
Mayor Stuart Drummond added: “There seems to be something in the mentality that goes against it.”
The ambition is for Hartlepool to become a breastfeeding friendly town while there was also calls for more work to target awareness among parents, grandparents and partners, increased peer support and national television campaigns.
For advice and support the first point of contact should be your midwife or health visitor or call the national breastfeeding helpline on 0300 100 0212, which operates seven days a week 9.30am to 9.30pm.