ST Helens Council will continue to build a “social movement” to normalise breastfeeding, one of the borough’s public health chiefs has said.

Michelle Loughlin, the council’s assistant director of public health, presented a report on breastfeeding rates to the health and adult social care overview and scrutiny panel this week.

The report shows that breastfeeding initiation rates in St Helens have increased from 48.6 per cent in 2010-11 to 55.3 per cent in 2016-17.

Ms Loughlin said while this is an improvement of 6.7 per cent, it is still significantly below the national and North West rates (74.5 per cent and 64.5 per cent respectively).

However, around half of those who started breastfeeding had stopped around six to eight weeks after giving birth.

Recent data shows the breastfeeding rate at six to eight weeks in 2017-18 was 21.8 per cent, which is among the lowest in England.

The national average is 42.7 per cent.

Ms Loughlin said the issues around breastfeeding in St Helens are “deeply engrained” in the borough’s communities and said some of the solutions lie within the communities themselves.

The St Helens Infant Feeding Strategy 2016-2019 identified four priorities to improve breastfeeding rates, along with a detailed action plan.

One of the priorities is to build a social movement for change.

Ms Loughlin said the council will continue to do this to “normalise” breastfeeding by delivering high profile campaigns and messages such as the ongoing ‘Your Milk Your Story’, which launched in 2017.

She added that the council will continue to build public support for breastfeeding.

Ms Loughlin said: “It’s absolutely vital that we’ve got our communities alongside us in championing this, to really normalise breastfeeding.

“And (the council will) continue to look at opportunities to provide breastfeeding-friendly places within our town centre.”

The report says there are some concerns over the quality of the data due to inconsistent recording and completeness.

Work has begun to address this and the first two quarters of 2018-19 has seen a small increase in the six to eight-week rates, putting the authority on track to achieve its target of 24 per cent.