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Encouraging mums to take a breast test; The North East is one of the first regions in the UK to get its own breastfeeding champion. Reporter SOPHIE DOUGHTY spoke to the new infant feeding co-ordinator about her quest to convince mums that breast is best.

Byline: SOPHIE DOUGHTY

NEW mums in the North East are less likely to breastfeed their babies than almost anywhere else in the country.

The region has one of the worst rates of breastfeeding initiation in the UK, which itself has one of the lowest rates in Europe.

And in some areas more than half of all mums never even try breastfeeding.

In an attempt to encourage more parents to turn their backs on the bottle and give their babies the best start in life, Government Office North East (GONE) has appointed its first ever infant feeding co-ordinator.

Victoria Head's job will be to find out why so many mothers in the region do not want to breastfeed and then make sure that through hospitals, midwives, doctors and health visitors, they are given as much information as possible so they can make an informed choice.

Victoria, who is based in GONE's Newcastle city centre offices, has been in her post for just over a week.

Her role will be to support Primary Care Trust's PCT in delivering the highest standards of help and advice when it comes to encouraging breastfeeding.

"Our initiation rates are among the worst in the country," she explained. "I think it is possibly just the culture we come from, which is a very formula-fed culture, but my first job has been to carry out a social marketing exercise to find out exactly what is putting people off."

Breastfeeding initiation rates, which refer to the number of women who attempt breastfeeding within the first 48 hours after birth, are rising in the North East.

But they are still well below the national average.

Latest figures show that 78% of mothers in the UK initially breastfed in 2005. But in the same year in the North East some PCTs had initiation rates as low as 38%.

Victoria is concerned that breastfeeding gets a lot of bad press. And she said it was time to dispel some of the myths about breastfeeding.

"I have done a lot of teaching with antenatal mums and a lot of them are not at all prepared for motherhood. They don't realise that babies will wake up and cry during the night whether they are breast or bottle-fed. They just need more information and help."

Victoria passionately believes breast milk gives babies the best possible start in life. And she tells parents that it has a range of health benefits for both mothers and babies.

"One of the main health concerns at the moment is obesity and breastfeeding helps reduce the risk of childhood obesity," she explained. "It also reduces the risk of diabetes, gut infections and ear infections.

"By breastfeeding, a mother continues to protect the baby after it has left the womb because it continues to get immunity with her antibodies.

"If a mother and a baby are in the same room and there is a virus in the air, the mother's body will make antibodies straight away which will be passed on to the baby when she breastfeeds.

"But there are also health benefits for mums. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer by 4% every year of breastfeeding. The breast milk cleans the breast of any rouge genes that might become cancerous. It also reduces the risk of osteoporosis and ovarian cancer."

"We are trying to change that culture and let people know that breastfeeding is best for your baby

CAPTION(S):

EARLY BENEFITS: Breastfeeding helps reduce the risk of childhood obesity; BEST START: Victoria Head wants to encourage mums to give it a try
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 4, 2008
Words:594
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