Why Britain has the worlds lowest breastfeeding rates

Women are under pressure to "get their lives back" after having children

According to a study published in January of 2016, only one in 200 British women (0.5%) are still breastfeeding a year after becoming mothers, putting Britain to have the world's lowest breastfeeding rates. The figure is 23% in Germany and 27% in the US.

Professor Amy Brown states that women now feel under pressure to continue with the lives they led before giving birth. She denies that the problems are due to physical inabilities to breastfeed, stating that only 2% of women in the UK are unable to breastfeed due to a physical problem or medication. The act of breastfeeding can be “overwhelming” when women are also trying to get themselves back to where they were before giving birth.

Breastfeeding, especially during the first few weeks, takes far longer than it would to formula feed. “Despite more than 90% of mothers in the UK wanting to breastfeed, more than half (of babies) have had some formula by the end of their first week,” she said. “Until we change attitudes and take better care of our new mothers and truly support them, we will not see rates rise.”

She also pointed out that increasing breastfeeding rates could save the NHS £40 million each year, and called for a change in public attitudes towards breastfeeding in public. “Breastfeeding should be normal behaviour. However, in this country, it sparks high levels of debate in the press and online – much of which can be highly critical of breastfeeding or examples of when a mother has experienced a problem when feeding her child this way. “Despite the promotion that ‘breast is best’, we do not follow it up with actions to support new mothers. More people here believe that smacking is acceptable than believe that breastfeeding in public is okay.

How different countries around the world look after mum and baby after birth    

These low breastfeeding rates have been linked to reduced breastfeeding support, cuts in public health funding, negative attitude towards breastfeeding in public and a lack of knowledge of the health benefits of breastmilk.  

Breastfeeding is associated with lower rates of infection, an improved bond between mother and child and lower rates of postnatal depression. If the rates could be raised to just 50% at six months, this would save the NHS an estimated £40 million in prevented health problems.

Presenter of Dispatches: Breastfeeding Uncovered, Kate Quilton, reveals some surprising findings after giving birth.

“There were government cuts in 2015 which meant that a lot of breastfeeding support services were cut across the country - now one mum that I spoke to who is based near Blackpool had to travel two and a half hours to her closest breastfeeding support group, and when her baby was five days old, that’s just impossible.” she told The Independent.

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Breastfeeding rates around the world

COUNTRIES WITH THE HIGHEST RATES AFTER 12 MONTHS

  • Senegal (99.4%)
  • The Gambia (98.7%)
  • Malawi (98.3%)
  • Guinea-Bissau (97.8%)
  • Ethiopia (97.3%)

COUNTRIES WITH LOWEST RATES AFTER 12 MONTHS

  • UK (0.5%)
  • Saudi Arabia (2%)
  • Denmark (3%)
  • Greece (6%)
  • Canada and France (9%)

Source: The Lancet, 2016