UNICEF has singled out the Great Western Hospital as exemplary in its efforts to encourage young mothers to breastfeed their newborns, awarding it an international award.

Swindon’s maternity unit has received the coveted Stage 3 accreditation from the global organisation’s Baby Friendly Initiative which recognises hospitals whichpromote the benefits of breastfeeding to expectant mums and support them to give their child the best possible start in life.

While the UK has the lowest level of breastfeeding mothers in Europe, with just 74 per cent in 2012/2013 on average, no fewer than 78.4 per cent of all new mothers at GWH breastfed their baby within the first week of giving birth thanks to advice from nurses and midwives in the service.

Cathy Gale, infant feeding specialist midwife at GWH, said the ten-strong team was delighted with the accolade.

“All the staff that work here have been trained to offer the best advice and support on breastfeeding to expectant and new mothers, so they can make an informed decision on how to feed their new arrival,” she said.

“This accreditation shows that we have really good practices in place for mums who want to breastfeed their new babies.

“With this accreditation we should continue to see a rise in the number of mums breastfeeding here. There has already been an increase of about nine per cent in recent years.”

Prior to being awarded Stage 3 accreditation, a team of UNICEF assessors interviewed new mums at GWH about the standard of care offered to them.

Research has shown that breastfeeding has enormous health benefits for both mother and baby. It can help a baby’s digestion while also reducing the risk of diarrhoea and vomiting.

“Breastfeeding can also help keep postnatal depression at bay and reduce the risk of the mother developing breast and ovarian cancer in later life.

“I think the message is out there that breastfeeding is a good idea but it’s not always specific.

“We are very conscious that it’s not straightforward for everybody. But if they have something like sore nipples we can look at why it’s happening, support them and look at the best possible outcomes.

“If it goes well breastfeeding is lovely, emotional and empowering for a mum.”

Stage 3 is the last stage before full accreditation.

As well as supporting mothers, GWH signposts them to breastfeeding-friendly cafes and shops, via the breastfeeding welcome scheme website, to encourage them to continue for the first few months after birth.

The BFI, which was set up in 1994 by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, works alongside the NHS to ensure that new mothers are supported as best they can when it comes to breastfeeding.

To find breastfeeding friendly venues visit www.breastfeedingwelcomescheme.org.uk