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Breast is best for majority of Shetland mums

MUMS continue to be much more likely to breastfeed new-born babies in Shetland than anywhere else in Scotland, official statistics from The Royal College of Midwives show.

The initial rate of exclusive breastfeeding stood at 57.8 per cent in Shetland in 2015/16.  That is nearly 10 per cent higher than the national average, while at 6-8 weeks the rate is 47.3 per cent.

Shetland’s breastfeeding rate is the highest out of the 14 health board areas and far exceeds the rate in some areas. The initial rate of exclusive breastfeeding in NHS Lanarkshire, for instance, is just 23.7 per cent, while the rate at 6-8 weeks in NHS Ayrshire & Arran is only 6.8 per cent.

NHS Shetland’s child and family health manager Kate Kenmure said breastfeeding rates in Shetland were traditionally very high. Although the statistics are based on a relatively small sample rate, the relatively high percentage rate has been sustained over several decades.

“It’s culturally been normal for people to breastfeed,” she said. “We never had that dip that’s happened in other places where maybe in the fifties and sixties it was normal to breastfeed and then bottle-feeding became the norm.”

While in other areas breastfeeding rates have recovered as the NHS highlights the health benefits, Shetland never had a dip in the first place.

“Elsewhere the younger women have tended to bottle-feed, whereas in Shetland young people are quite motivated to breastfeed – that keeps the numbers high,” Kenmure said.

But, while stressing the health board wasn’t seeking to take exclusive credit for the strong uptake in breastfeeding, she said NHS Shetland made promoting natural feeding one of its priorities.

The hospital, midwives and health visitors are all accredited under UNICEF’s baby-friendly initiative, which means the health board has “quite stringent standards that we have to maintain”.

Kenmure said pregnant women and new mothers also received a lot of direct support that isn’t always available in other parts of the country.

“Every woman who is pregnant has a named midwife, and that builds up confidence. We have more time to spend with women. They stay in hospital longer just because we don’t have the same pressure on our [maternity] beds, so we give that first 24-48 hours support to get women established in their breastfeeding.

“The confidence is really a huge thing. Because we’ve got fewer numbers of women, we can give them more support initially.”

She also feels the wider community is very accepting of breastfeeding in public, which isn’t always the case elsewhere.

“It goes back to the cultural norm within the community,” Kenmure adds. “It’s just the normal thing to do. That then gives women the confidence to do it for longer, and go out so they don’t become isolated and they can still be part of the community, which is really important.”

There is also a breastfeeding peer support group where mothers who have breastfed offer advice to new mothers. It runs at the Bruce Family Centre every Friday, and phone support can also be accessed by calling the Gilbert Bain Hospital switchboard.

Mother-of-two Chloe Tallack, 31, from Bixter, has breastfed both of her young daughters and was full of praise for NHS Shetland’s approach.

“I’ve never had a problem with feeding publicly in Shetland,” she said. “Folk tend to be very encouraging and positive about it, often telling me about their own experiences.

“I’ve had great advice from the health visitor and other maternity services – you really feel they have time to support you through the journey.”