THE number of women in Forth Valley breastfeeding six weeks after giving birth has increased by more than 5 per cent, earning the health board international recognition.

The rise helped NHS Forth Valley’s community health visiting service obtain a prestigious Baby Friendly Award from Unicef (United Nations Children’s Fund).

The accolade was presented at the Breastfeeding Support Group at Clackmannanshire Community Healthcare Centre.

Kathy O’Neill, NHS Forth Valley general manager, received the certificate from Anne Tainsh, professional lead for Scotland for the UNICEF Baby Friendly initiative.

Ms O’Neill said: “I am delighted to receive this prestigious award on behalf of NHS Forth Valley’s community health visiting service.

“The team offer practical and emotional support to enable local women across Forth Valley to help them feel more confident and comfortable to breastfeed.

“This support and encouragement is having a real impact on local women and is helping to improve our local breastfeeding rates.”

Morag Mackellar, NHS Forth Valley’s maternal and infant nutrition public health lead, said: “We decided to join forces with Unicef’s UK Baby Friendly Initiative to increase breastfeeding rates and to improve care for all mothers in NHS Forth Valley.

“Regardless of how a mother chooses to feed, she can be sure that she will be supported to form a strong loving relationship with her newborn baby.”

The Baby Friendly Initiative, set up by Unicef and the World Health Organisation, is a global programme which provides a practical and effective way for health services to improve the care provided for all mothers and babies.

In the UK, the initiative works with public services to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding and to strengthen mother-baby and family relationships.

Support for these relationships is important for all babies, not only those who are breastfed.

Sue Ashmore, Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative programme director, said: "We are delighted that NHS Forth Valley’s Community Health Visiting Service has achieved full Baby Friendly status.

“Surveys show us that most mothers want to breastfeed but don’t always get the support they need.

“Mothers in NHS Forth Valley can be confident that their midwives and health visitors will provide high standards of care.”