Australian supermodel Elle Macpherson (search) visited a hospital maternity ward to encourage new mothers to breast-feed their babies.

Macpherson, who promotes breast-feeding for UNICEF (search), was shown around the maternity unit at the Royal Oldham Hospital in Manchester, northern England, Wednesday.

She presented the hospital with a Baby Friendly Award for its work in supporting mothers who want to breast-feed.

In 1994, before the Royal Oldham Hospital started working toward Baby Friendly standards, only 29 percent of new mothers were breast-feeding and almost all of those quit within the first four weeks after the birth.

By 2004, almost two-thirds of new mothers were breast-feeding and 40 percent were still doing so after four weeks.

"I've been so impressed by the commitment of the staff to the ideals of being baby friendly," Macpherson said.

She breast-fed her two sons and said it was "the best start in life that I could have given them."

"However, many women do not get the help and support they need in order to breast-feed their babies, and this can be a major disappointment to them," Macpherson said.

The World Health Organization (search) and UNICEF say that babies who are fed only breast milk for the first six months of life are less likely to develop illnesses in infancy, childhood and adulthood.

Their Baby Friendly Award is a globally recognized standard of care.