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Breastfeeding Rates in the United Kingdom are the Lowest in the World, Study Says

Update Date: Jan 29, 2016 09:31 AM EST

Babies born in the United Kingdom and other high-income countries do not get breastfed as much as and as long as babies born in other countries of the world do.

In one part of the research, the team set out to compare the rates of breastfeeding in high-income, middle-income and low-income countries. They found that 20 percent of mothers from high-income countries, such as the UK and the Unites States, breastfed their babies past 12-months.

The UK rate was the lowest at 0.5 percent. In Germany, Brazil and Senegal, the percentages of mothers who breastfed their babies after a year were 23 percent, 56 percent and 99 percent, respectively.

In middle and low-income countries, one in three mothers will exclusively breastfeed their babies until they are at least six-months-old.

In another part of the series on breastfeeding, researchers reported that if everyone throughout the world breastfed, the number of children under five-years-old who could be saved is about 823,000 per year. The number of deaths from breast cancer that could be prevented is around 20,000.

In high-income countries, breastfeeding can lower the risk of sudden infant deaths by at least one-third. In middle and low-income countries, breastfeeding can help prevent about 50 percent of diarrhea cases and about 33 percent of respiratory infections. Breastfeeding in general can increase children's intelligence, and reduce risk of obesity and diabetes later on in life.

"Breastfeeding saves lives and money in all countries, rich and poor alike. Therefore, the importance of tackling the issue globally is greater than ever," study author Cesar Victora, professor at Brazil's Federal University of Pelotas, said. "There is a widespread misconception that the benefits of breastfeeding only relate to poor countries. Nothing could be further from the truth."

Experts who were not involved with the report stressed the importance of encouraging and guiding mothers to breastfeed. Oftentimes in the beginning, breastfeeding can be difficult and without the proper support group, mothers might give up and turn to other options.

"It is crucial to bear in mind the various barriers and challenges faced by mums when it comes to breastfeeding," Sarah Redshaw, from the BabyCentre website, said reported by BBC News. "Generally mums are aware that breastfeeding is best for their baby but often don't get the right support if they encounter problems in the early weeks - which many, many do. As a result, significant numbers give up on breastfeeding."

The series of research can be accessed in the journal, The Lancet.

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