According to new research conducted by UNICEF, the UK is among countries with the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.

In response to the new data, children’s health experts are now calling for girls to be taught how to breastfeed during personal social health education (PSHE) classes at school.

Of the 23 countries in the report’s list, the UK had the fifth lowest breastfeeding rates, just ahead of the US, Spain, France and Ireland, where only just over half of babies are ever fed breastmilk.

Why breastfeeding should be taught in schools

Speaking to Refinery29 UK, Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, recommended that children from a young age need to learn that breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for a baby and not something to be anxious or embarrassed about.

He said: “Delivering personal social health education (PSHE) in all schools is an effective way to do this and PHSE, therefore, must be made statutory and compulsory for all schools.”

“By embedding these positive messages early in life, we have the power to change societal attitudes of a generation.”

A 2015 study carried out by Public Health England’s (PHE’s) parenting advice service, Start4Life, found that one in five mums believed that people did not want them to breastfeed in public. One in 10 chose not to breastfeed their baby because they were worried about doing so away from home.

Millions of mothers missing vital breastfeeding peer support

Culture, income and available resources are thought to all have an impact on a woman’s decision to breastfeed, with the report showing a clear divide between high-income and low-income countries.

Just over a fifth (21%) of babies in high-income countries are never breastfed, while in low-income countries the figure is 4%.

Pregnant women in the UK are encouraged by the NHS to exclusively feed their baby breastmilk for the first six months of life. Health benefits cited for both the baby and the mother include protection from infections and diseases, diarrhoea and vomiting, a reduced likelihood of type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease in adulthood, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and leukaemia in childhood.

But the debate around this issue is bound to continue. Are schools the best place to teach children about public health concerns? Or should the emphasis be on parental education and building a society that gives children a balanced, accurate view of breastfeeding?

10 countries with the lowest breastfeeding rates

1. Ireland (55%)
2. France (63%)
3. US (74.4%)
4. Spain (77%)
5. UK (81%)
6. Germany (82%)
7. Italy (86%)
8. Republic of Korea (88%)
9. Montenegro (88.3%)
10. Guyana (89%)

10 countries with the highest breastfeeding rates

1. Sri Lanka (99.4%)
2. Bhutan (99.3%)
3. Nepal (99.1%)
4. Madagascar (99%)
5. Niger (98.8%)
6. Rwanda (98.8%)
7. Kenya (98.7%)
8. Gambia (98.7%)
9. Burundi (98.7%)
10. Uruguay (98.7%)
11. Peru (98.7%)

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