IT’S not every week I get to spend an hour on a Monday morning talking about women’s boobs but this week, at the Health and Well-Being Board, a report was tabled about breast feeding rates in Hartlepool and what we can do to increase them.
Our statistics actually make quite worrying reading when we compare ourselves to the rest of the country and even in the North-East we are among the worst areas for breast feeding rates.
Only around 45 per cent of new mothers feed their baby on the breast as opposed to a bottle and of those about half of them do not keep it up for longer than three days.
That means approximately three quarters of new born babies in Hartlepool are not receiving their mother’s milk within three days of being born and are therefore potentially not getting the very best possible start in their new life.
Numerous schemes have been tried and tested to encourage more new mothers to choose to breast feed their babies over recent years and although there has been a very slight improvement in the statistics, we cannot honestly say we are succeeding.
The reason for the report was to stimulate debate and ideas of how we improve things going forward.
I hope I don’t need to extol the virtues of breast feeding and the extra health and well being benefits it brings to children both in their development and in later life.
Every medical study that I have come across says it is healthier to breast feed than to use a formula in a bottle.
I take it as a fact that breast feeding is more beneficial to a baby and for me that has got to be the over riding argument in any debate on the subject.
So therefore, why is it the case that Hartlepool has such low figures? No one is exactly sure and it is probably down to quite a number of reasons and our approach in the future needs to address all of the potential causes.
The attitude that a girl’s mother and grandmother never breast fed and their babies turned out all right is a reason often given by new mothers.
To me that is like saying my grandad smoked until he was 101 so I’ll be perfectly fine if I do, it simply doesn’t wash.
The arguments for breast feeding need to be more persuasive, information needs to be clearer and there is definitely a role for grand parents in persuading their daughters that breast is best.
There is also a big role to play for new fathers as well. Undoubtedly, they will want the very best for their child so they also need to be made aware of the advantages of their partner feeding on the breast so they can support them through the most difficult first few days and beyond.
Men are also biologically prevented from doing the night feeds if their child is breast feeding so apart from making the odd cup of tea at 3am just to keep in the good books, they generally manage to get a good night’s sleep.
There are also two other much bigger than normal advantages in your partner breast feeding if you know what I mean!
It’s easy to roll out the usual excuse of Hartlepool being a more deprived area as a reason for these low figures but places like Mansfield, Trafford and Gateshead with similar demographics have had some fantastic success in increasing breast feeding rates which shows it can be done.
Perhaps there is a fear and trepidation amongst expectant mothers about breast feeding and that much more work is needed around support and encouragement in the run up to the birth.
We talked about getting peers involved, ladies who had been there and done it or even still doing it to help new mothers overcome any difficulties they may experience or think they will experience.
Positive role models could play a huge part in this and it would be great if some celebrity A-listers or even Kate Middleton decide to breast feed which would send out a very strong message particularly to younger mothers.
A couple of years ago, there was talk about encouraging Hartlepool as a town to be breast feeding friendly so new mothers would feel totally comfortable feeding their babies in public.
I don’t think this has happened and a lot of the feedback we get from mothers is that, no matter how discreet they are in most places, it can still be an uncomfortable experience.
Breast feeding is one of the most natural things on the planet.
Most people say it is socially acceptable but for it truly to be so, the mothers must feel totally comfortable when they do it and a lot of work is needed in Hartlepool to make that so.
In a minority of cases, there is a medical or biological reason why a new mother cannot breast feed but for everyone else it comes down to choice and sometimes sacrifices.
The overwhelming evidence says that the best choice for a child to be fed on the milk of its mother.
Not enough women are making the best choice for their child in Hartlepool and if we want the next generation of Hartlepudlians to be healthier than us, we need to get more and more women to make a better choice. The Health and Well-Being Board will be putting together a strategy over the coming months to try and tackle our short comings.
This will result is better advice, better information and a number of campaigns and I sincerely hope, more women choosing to breast feed their baby.