A NEW campaign has been launched to improve breastfeeding rates in Inverclyde as healthcare staff receive a top award from charity Unicef.

Members of the local health and social care partnership (HSCP) celebrated being honoured with a gold baby-friendly accolade along with representatives from partner organisations, mums and their little ones.

An event took place at The Waterwheel restaurant in Port Glasgow retail park where one of the area's newest breastfeeding support groups meets up.

It comes as local healthcare workers launched a campaign to improve rates.

More than two-fifths of Inverclyde mums begin to breast feed but that figure drops dramatically to 15 per cent after just six weeks.

Fiona Houlihan, service manager for children and families at Inverclyde HSCP, said: "We're trying to promote a breastfeeding culture in Inverclyde for the benefits it brings, not only for the children but for mothers too."

The Unicef gold award is delivered in partnership with The Baby Friendly Initiative and is based on a global accreditation programme by the charity and the World Health Organisation to support breastfeeding and parent-infant relationships by working with public services to improve standards of care.

It lasts for three years, after which Inverclyde HSCP will be re-evaluated.

Catriona MacLean, health visitor and infant feeding co-ordinator, said: "We have a lot of things on the go to help encourage breastfeeding.

"We'll also be approaching places like coffee shops, offices, sports centres and other public facilities to offer staff additional support and training on breastfeeding and how to make mums feel more welcome."

At the celebration event, there were also representatives from the The Breastfeeding Network, Breastfeeding Friendly Scotland and Home-Start.

Louise Long, director of Inverclyde HSCP and Unicef gold ambassador, said: "Breastfeeding rates are low but we're doing all that we can to encourage it because it's so important to a baby's health and their mum's.

"The Unicef gold award is very important because it recognises the work of people across all sorts of levels in trying to achieve that. "It's lovely to see so many babies and mums here celebrating that too - it makes it all real."

Councillor Lynne Quinn, a mum and the area's women's champion, has experience of the challenges of encouraging breastfeeding having launched her own support group - Inverclyde Happy Tots - a decade ago with friend Gillian Bowker.

Lynne said: "It's a cultural thing for the whole of society to accept that breastfeeding is the norm.

"Unfortunately in Inverclyde it's still not part of the culture but we need to change that and keep talking about it and raising awareness."

* To access breastfeeding support call Catriona on 506001 or email catriona.maclean@ggc.scot.nhs.uk.