COUNCIL bosses want to tackle “taboos” to make Oldham a “breastfeeding friendly town” as it’s revealed that less than half of new mothers in the borough feed their babies naturally.

The council had set a target for the year of trying to get 42 pc of all new mothers fully or partially breastfeeding up to eight weeks old.

But Shirley Goodhew, locum consultant in public health, told councillors at an overview and scrutiny meeting that they needed to lower their expectations.

In Royton North ward, breastfeeding rates have dropped to just over 18 per cent, with dozens of babies being entirely fed on alternatives, such as formula milk.

Ms Goodhew said it was possible they needed to review their target.

“Because looking at the data we are hardly getting anywhere near that target that we have set ourselves however we can continue to be ambitious and strive to do better,” she said.

She told the meeting that there was lots of evidence which proved that breastfeeding was a key way to give children the “best start in life”.

However data pointed to a cultural divide over the practice, with white British mothers much less likely to completely or partially breastfeed.

“It does promote bonding and attachment and good parent child relationships and it is the best nutrition for babies,” Ms Goodhew added.

“In Oldham with our diverse population, we are seeing that our South Asian mothers generally have higher prevalence rates, more likely to breastfeed their babies when we compare it to white British communities.

“There is evidence that there is a real strong cultural aspect there.

“Mothers from more affluent areas with higher levels of health literacy are more likely to breastfeed their babies than perhaps communities from lower socio-economic groups there.”

While breastfeeding rates are declining in some wards, areas in Failsworth, Shaw and Hollinwood have seen improved rates, with a year on year increase.

Ms Goodhew said: “What we are seeing that some of those wards that were in the middle in terms of prevalence are starting to slide down.

“We’re tackling those health inequalities which is brilliant but we do need to make sure we maintain that universal offer as well.

“When you compare Oldham there is a decline but it’s not at the same rate as nationally so we are kind of holding our own which is positive against the national trends, but still a long way to go to get up to the national average.”

One way the council are trying to break the ‘taboo’ around breastfeeding in public is the “Baby Welcome” scheme, which encourages businesses to promote their premises as a welcoming environment for mothers.

So far 83 venues in Oldham, including cafes, GP practices, shops and libraries have signed up to the scheme.

Ms Goodhew said: “It is about creating a culture of this is the norm, this is what we promote, we don’t want mothers to feel embarrassed or having to go to the toilet and mothers are valued for that contribution they’re making.

“And that it’s visible so that young people see that breastfeeding is normal. It is about changing cultures, attitudes.”

Crompton councillor Diane Williamson suggested they could widen the scheme by signing up new restaurants and cafes when they applied to the council for a licence.

She said: “Where I represent, Shaw and Crompton, there are just six places that have signed up to it and I know it can be a bit of a taboo for some places and businesses.

“But if that’s what we want – baby welcome – when perhaps new businesses open up why can’t we put in their licensing condition to say ‘do you want to be part of this scheme?’

“There is a lot of people out there who think it is a really taboo subject and shouldn’t be done, but we’re trying to bring up breastfeeding rates.”