MOTHERS should be allowed to breastfeed in public places and any promotion of powdered milk should be banned, health experts in Blackburn said.

Under Blackburn and Darwen Primary Care Trust's new "framework for action" on breastfeeding, health bosses will call on local authorities, businesses and voluntary groups to protect rights to breastfeed in public, and encourage employers to introduce policies to help change the "bottle-feed culture."

Breastfeeding rates in Blackburn are well below the national average, despite benefits to children including improved immunity, protection against diabetes and lower risk of obesity.

Low breastfeeding rates are thought to contribute to high levels of infant mortality in the north west.

Under the new framework, breastfeeding co-ordinators will be introduced for all areas of Blackburn with Darwen, with support groups for mothers.

Dr Ruth Hussey, North West Regional Director for Public Health said: "We have a clear aim and this is to improve the health of mothers and children by increasing the number of mothers who breast-feed and the length of time they breast-feed their babies.

"We firmly believe, and there is clear evidence, that by achieving this we will make a significant impact on health inequalities and in particular childhood obesity.

"Breast-feeding is of major importance if we are to address health inequalities in our region.

"The impact of health inequalities is passed on from generation to generation and is particularly apparent with breastfeeding.

"The framework sets out some clear recommendations and objectives for everyone who has a role to play in this.

"Based on experience of local successes we are confident that rates can increase markedly in the region."

A National Breastfeeding Helpline, staffed by volunteers, was launched this month, on 0844 20 909 20.