Breastfeeding has both short and long term health benefits for the mother and her child NICE, 2008. Mothers who choose to breastfeed should receive adequate support to be able to continue breastfeeding as long as they wish to. Here we examine national and international trends.

What propotion of mothers start and continue to breastfeed?

The current UK policy is to breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months (NICE, 2008). The graph shows a slight increase in the proportion of maternities where breastfeeding was initiated but then the trend levels off to 74%. However, prevalence of breastfeeding, calculated as the proportion of all infants due for their 6-8 week check recorded by CCGs as totally or partially breastfeeding, has only reached a high of 47%. The difference in these two rates could be due to differences in how the data are recorded or the time difference between the two measures. The proportion breastfeeding is lower for the measure which happens later (at 6-8 weeks), factors which contribute to this reduction could be choice of the mother or a lack of support to continue with breastfeeding.

How do breastfeeding trends compare internationally?

Here we look at the proportion of infants in the UK reaching their first birthday in the given calendar year who were breastfed, at least partially, when they were 3 months of age. We can see that relative to a selection of other countries, rates in the UK have been increasing but are still the lowest. Sweden has had the highest proportion of breastfed infants (over 80%) but there has been a declining trend.

About this data

In England the breastfeeding prevalence at 6-8 weeks was not published in 2013/14 due to the number children with no recorded status of 6-8 week breastfeeding prevalence being greater than 5% of all eligible children. In Q1 14/15 11.8% of eligible children at 6-8 weeks in England did not have 6-8 breastfeeding status recorded and the Q1 14/15 cannot be published due to this failure of data completeness.

European Health for All Database data notes:

Coverage: Survey only conducted every 5 years so data only available for years 2000, 2005 and 2010

Deviation from the Definition: The survey measures breastfeeding at 6 weeks, 4 months & 6 months. Therefore, a measure of 3 months is not possible. The data presented here are for babies aged 4 months.


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