Charities have welcomed a new report that shows an increase in breastfeeding could save the NHS up to £40m.
The UNICEF UK report shows that low breastfeeding rates in the UK are costing the health service millions of pounds.
It shows that for just five illnesses, moderate increases in breastfeeding would translate into cost savings for the NHS of £40 million and tens of thousands of fewer hospital admissions and GP consultations.
"We know that 90 per cent of women who stop breastfeeding in the first six weeks discontinued before they had wanted to,” said Anita Tiessen, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF UK.
"We want to see breastfeeding recognised as a major public health issue from government level through to local children's centres, and appropriate investment and legislation put in place to give mothers a better experience of breastfeeding."
Sally Greenbrook, Senior Policy Officer at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said:
“We know breastfeeding slightly reduces the risk of breast cancer and the longer a woman breastfeeds in total, the lower the risk of breast cancer becomes. This report rightly emphasises the importance of the NHS providing support to women who choose to breastfeed.
“The decision whether to breastfeed is very personal and it is important that women do what is right for them and their baby. It is natural for breasts to change during breastfeeding, however we urge women who are breastfeeding to remain breast aware, reporting any unusual changes to their GP as soon as possible.”
The report also studied three conditions: cognitive ability, childhood obesity and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
It found that modest improvements in breastfeeding rates could save millions of pounds and, in the case of SIDS, children's lives.
The research team was led by Professor Mary Renfrew of Dundee University.
"This research shines a spotlight on the profound protective effects which breastfeeding has on both mother and child," Professor Renfrew said.
"It is clear that putting resources into supporting women to breastfeed successfully would be hugely cost effective to the NHS, as well as preventing the distress and pain felt by a mother who has a bad experience of breastfeeding.”