The majority of children in the U.K have little or no exposure to breastfeeding while growing up. New recommendations from U.K. pediatricians state that breastfeeding education should occur at school.
The United Kingdom has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe. While the majority of mothers in the U.K. initiate breastfeeding, only 1% of babies continue to breastfeed exclusively at six months of age, according to the 2010 Infant Feeding Survey.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), the professional body for pediatricians in the United Kingdom, is aiming to change those figures. Arguing that breastfeeding is often stigmatized, recommendations released by the organization call for a “collective, long-term plan to change the culture of breastfeeding involving educating children at school, families and the wider public.”
The RCPCH recommends that breastfeeding is taught in personal, social and health education (PSHE) classes. PSHE classes cover health and well-being topics such as bullying, alcohol, family relationships, sex education, careers, and personal finance.
Professor Neena Modi, RCPCH President, believes that children need to understand more about breastfeeding. While the first step should be exposing small children to women in their lives breastfeeding, the next step should involve the schools teaching children the health benefits of breastfeeding.
“When we asked groups of children and young people what they thought about breastfeeding, we were really surprised — and a little bit upset — to hear the word ‘yucky’ being used by them,” Professor Modi told the BBC. “Clearly the perception that we, as a society, are giving children, is not the perception we want them to be getting.”
There is evidence to suggest that the recommendations could work. A 2000 study published in the Journal of Human Lactation showed that high school aged girls who were exposed to breastfeeding were much more likely to view breastfeeding as beneficial, and to be interested in breastfeeding education.
In another study, college students who were given formal education about breastfeeding in high school held positive attitudes about breastfeeding and were more apt to support breastfeeding education in a public setting.
One thing we can all agree on is that children hold the values of the future. While teaching children the importance of breastfeeding starts at home, the school system can play a significant role in the normalization and education of breastfeeding.