Mary Ross-Davie - The Royal College of Midwives' country director for Scotland
Monday, January 22, 2018
Scotland is the latest country to recommend that all babies from birth are given Vitamin D supplements, bringing it in line with the rest of the UK.
Why should all babies, including those who are breastfed, be given Vitamin D supplements?
There is a growing understanding that a lot of people in the UK, including babies, are not able to make adequate supplies of Vitamin D due to our lack of exposure to sunlight.
This is particularly a problem for those of us living further north, with less sunlight and particularly through the winter months; it is also worsened in areas with high levels of air pollution. People with darker skin tones and those who have little exposure of their skin to sunlight are also more vulnerable to having a lack of vitamin D.
We also know that it is really important to protect babies and children from too much exposure to direct sunlight due to the risks of skin cancer and skin damage, so that is why the vitamin drops are being recommended.
What are the current rates of breastfeeding in the UK?
They are very variable – in some areas, the breastfeeding rate at six to eight weeks is well over 60 per cent, and in some areas it is as low as 20 per cent. The average rate is around 40 per cent, which is much lower than many other parts of Europe. There is progress being made, with breastfeeding rates generally on the up in most parts of the UK.
How can more women be encouraged to breastfed?
The way that breastfeeding becomes more the norm is through a whole range of things: some of it is about gradually changing the culture, so that women feel supported by their community, their friends and family to breastfeed successfully; some of it is about Government action, with legislation around protecting women’s right to breastfeed when they are out and about and providing adequate funding for enough midwives and maternity support workers. I think above all we need to protect adequately funded and staffed midwifery services, including postnatal care. We need really great postnatal professional and peer support out in communities in order to support women to breastfeed successfully, as some women do find it difficult at first.
There is currently variability in the amount of support out there – there is always variability in care provision of all kinds and we need to do all we can to try to move away from a ‘postcode lottery’. Women find peer support really helpful, as well as professional support. Increasingly there are great online and telephone support services for women, so they should be accessible even if you are living in a rural area where you are less well served by face-to-face support groups and specialist clinics.