Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding has short and long term health benefits for both mother and child NICE, 2008. Breast milk is the best source of nutrients for infants, and the current UK policy is to promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months (26 weeks) of an infant's life. Mothers who choose to breastfeed should receive adequate support to enable them to continue breastfeeding for as long as they wish. Here we examine national and international trends.

What propotion of mothers start and continue to breastfeed?

The proportion of new mothers initiating breastfeeding (within the first 48 hours of birth) increased over time from 66% in 2005/06 to 74% in 2010/11, where it has remained stable. In 2016/17, there was a slight increase to 75% of new mothers initiating breastfeeding.

However, the percentage of infants totally or partially breastfed at 6-8 weeks reached a high of only 47% in 2011/12. This fell to 43% in 2015/16, but has since increased slightly to 44% in 2016/17.

Updated July 2018.

How do breastfeeding trends compare internationally?

The proportion of babies who are breastfed, at least partially, when they are 6 months of age is relatively low in the UK compared to other European countries. In 2010, 34% of babies in the UK were breastfed at 6 months compared to 63% of babies in Sweden.

Further to this, only <a href="https://www.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/research/international-comparisons-of-health-and-wellbeing-in-early-childhood">1% of UK babies</a> aged under 6 months are being breastfed exclusively, compared with 34% in Portugal (data not shown).

Updated July 2018.

About this data

Number of new mothers known to have initiated breastfeeding are defined as:

The mother is defined as having initiated breastfeeding if, within the first 48 hours of birth, either she puts the baby to the breast or the baby is given any of the mothers breast milk.

Maternities are defined as:

The number of maternities is defined as the number of women who give birth to one or more live or stillborn babies of at least 24 weeks gestation where the baby is delivered by either midwife or a doctor and the place of delivery is either at home or in an NHS hospital or birthing centre (including GP units).

Totally breastfed is defined as infants who are exclusively receiving breast milk (this may be expressed breast milk) at 6 weeks of age - that is, they are NOT receiving formula milk, any other liquids or food.

Partially breastfed is defined as infants who are currently receiving breast milk (this may be expressed breast milk) at 6 weeks of age and who are also receiving formula milk or any other liquids or food

WHO, European Health Information Gateway data notes:
% of infants reaching their first birthday in the given calendar year who were breastfed, at least partially, when they were 6 months of age.

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

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