Litherland High School students as young as 14 are learning about motherhood in a whole new way; those that are taking a GCSE class in child development are learning about the benefits of breastfeeding. The tools being used – puppets and knitted breasts – may be a bit unorthodox, but it seems that the efforts really are making an impact on the mothers of tomorrow.
“Beforehand only a minority of students said they would consider breastfeeding in the future, but by the end of the presentation, a significant majority said they would,” said Sheila Bradshaw, head of child development at Litherland High School.
But not everyone is behind the classes – Normal Wells from the Family Education Trust, for example. He says that the teens are entirely too young to learn about motherhood.
“With the age of consent remaining at 16 and the average age at which women have their first child in the UK being almost 28, there is no pressing need to teach girls of 14 about breastfeeding,” Wells said. “The benefits of breastfeeding can be far more appropriately and effectively communicated to expectant mothers by GPs and midwives at antenatal appointments in the weeks and months immediately prior to the birth of a baby.”
However, Kim Thornton, the school’s nurse, says that there’s no better time to start educating the girls on breastfeeding.
“Research has shown that often young people form their opinions about how they would feed their baby before they leave school and we want to ensure that our students receive all of the information and advice they need to help them make a fully informed choice about whether to breastfeed or not.”
And with only 35 percent of infants being exclusively breastfed at one week of age, it is clear that education is needed somewhere, according to Allison Welch from the Liverpool Community Health NHS Trust, who backed the project.
“With a bottle feeding culture being the norm in this area, very few of the students had witnessed breastfeeding amongst family and friends and we wanted to get across how breastfeeding is incredibly convenient and offers a huge range of health benefits both to baby and mum,” Welch said, adding that the classes are designed to encourage the teens to consider breastfeeding when they do make the step into motherhood. For some, it may be sooner than others.
Currently, the UK has the highest teen birth and abortion rates in all of Western Europe. In 2008, 52.8 per 1,000 girls in the UK became pregnant. This was compared to the national average of 40.6 per 1,000.
Supported by critics or not, the success of the Litherland classes has the LCH Trust hoping that other Merseyside schools will adopt a similar class for their students.
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