PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 May, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 May, 1999, 12:00am

I was delighted to see such comprehensive and lengthy coverage given to the important issue of breastfeeding, in the article by Maggie Holmes headlined, 'The battle with the bottle' (Sunday Morning Post, April 11).

Ms Holmes brought home the message that breastfeeding is not a mere lifestyle choice, but an essential element in improving the community's health. A commitment within the medical establishment to encourage women to breastfeed, in both the private and public sectors, is at best patchy. Government hospital ante-natal classes do expound the benefits of breastmilk over formula, but this kind of empty propaganda is useless unless it is backed up with genuine support in those first crucial days after the baby's birth and follow-up support after the new mother leaves hospital. When I came out of hospital the first question many local people asked me when they saw the baby was how I was feeding him. When said I was breastfeeding, the most common question was 'Do you have enough milk?' Mothers have enough milk, but in the first weeks of parenthood they are also highly vulnerable to this kind of ill-informed second-guessing.

Many local mothers surrounded by sceptical in-laws and relatives often find this pressure irresistible. If the Government is serious about improving the rate of breastfeeding, then it must tackle it as a social issue, not just a medical one. More needs to be done to dispel the whole array of myths surrounding breastfeeding, especially those concerned with the health of the baby. Also, a baby and mother take a good six to eight weeks to get into an established and manageable routine with breastfeeding. A few weeks' extension of the minimum period of post-natal maternity leave would make a huge difference. Furthermore, although a mother should feel able to feed her hungry baby wherever she wants, those who would find it easier given a little privacy should not have to sit in a toilet cubicle to find it.

Employers should be encouraged to provide a suitable place, however small, where working mothers can express milk. All new buildings now require disabled access. Why not extend these requirements to include a small, clean space where babies can be fed and milk expressed in privacy? JANE PARRY Western