The Department of Health and the World Health Organisation recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond1,2. Despite this recommendation being widely recognised and supported many modern mums either never start or give up breastfeeding before their baby is fully weaned.
Breastfeeding rates in the UK have historically been amongst the lowest in the world3. When the first Infant Feeding Survey was conducted in England and Wales in 1975, it found that only 51% of women started to breastfeed their babies4. Since then, breastfeeding initiation rates have risen, particularly between 1990 and 2010 when the average UK initiation rate increased from 62% to 83%5,6.
Increases in breastfeeding have been seen across all countries within the UK, though there are some notable differences between them, with Northern Ireland seeing the lowest rates6.
The latest Infant Feeding Survey 2010 results have highlighted a particular need to focus on improving the duration of breastfeeding in the UK. Currently only 34% of mothers will continue to breastfeed their baby up to six months, and only one in a hundred will follow the current guidelines on exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life6.
A number of factors were identified in the 2010 survey that affect a mum’s likelihood to breastfeed7:
- Mums are more likely to breastfeed their first child (84%), than their subsequent babies (78%).
- Mums in managerial professions are more likely to breastfeed (90%) than those in routine & manual occupations (74%) or those who have never worked (71%).
- Mums who completed full time education at 16 years or younger are less likely to breastfeed (63%) than those who completed full time education at age 18 or above (91%).
- The most deprived mums breastfeed less (73%) than the least deprived mums (89%).
- Mums aged 30 or over are the most likely to breastfeed (87%) compared to younger mums aged 20 or younger (58%).
- Mums that are Asian (95%), black (96%) or Chinese (97%) are more likely to breastfeed than those who are white (79%).