The Infant Feeding Study 2010 has revealed that more women are breastfeeding longer and 69% of mothers exclusively breastfed at birth, a rise from 65% of mothers in 2005.
However this welcome news was tempered by the fact the report shows a huge variation in breastfeeding practices according to a mother's ethnicity, education and affluence.
The Infant Feeding Study, which is conducted by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) every five years since 1975, looks at the incidence, prevalence and duration of breastfeeding. The recent survey is based on responses by more than 10,000 mothers.
It found that the initial breastfeeding rate had increased from 76% in 2005 to 81% in 2010. However, the prevalence of breastfeeding fell to 69% at one week, and to 55% at six weeks. At six months, just over a third of mothers (34%) were still breastfeeding.
According to the report, many mothers who stop breastfeeding would have liked to have carried on for longer. The three most common reasons given by mothers for stopping breastfeeding within the first couple of weeks were:
- Baby would not suck/rejected the breast (33%)
- Mother experiencing painful breasts (22%)
- Mother felt the milk supply was insufficient (17%)
The report also shows mothers were most likely to initiate breastfeeding if they were:
- Aged 30 or over (87%)
- From a minority ethnic group (for example for Chinese or other ethnic group - 97 per cent, Black ethnic group - 96 per cent and Asian ethnic group - 95%)
- Among those who left education aged over 18 (91%)
- Living in affluent areas (89%)
Commenting on the report, Louise Silverton, the Royal College of Midwives' director of midwifery, said: "We warmly welcome the report and its findings that mothers are breastfeeding longer. However, there is still room for improvement in breastfeeding among groups with traditionally lower breastfeeding rates and those who tend to breastfeed for shorter durations.
"Furthermore, there needs to be a sea change in public attitudes towards breastfeeding in public places and more needs to be done to increase the visibility of breastfeeding and its acceptability in public. We are concerned that due to staff shortages women may not be getting the postnatal support they need from midwives whilst they establish breastfeeding in the early days after birth, due to a lack of time and resources for midwives to spend with women."
Candy Perry, healthcare business development director for parent's charity NCT, said: "More mothers (four in five) are deciding to breastfeed. It is vital that these mothers get the support they need so that more are able to continue for a long as they want to. NCT welcomes the fact that more mothers are able to breastfeed for longer, which could be due to improvements in women's ability to access skilled help, through more peer supporters, drops-ins, free antenatal courses for parents and UNICEF Baby Friendly training.
However, we are concerned that a high proportion of mothers stop before they planned to in the early days and weeks. This suggests that many women are still not getting all the help they need during this critical adjustment period. Mothers who plan to breastfeed need access to skilled, non-judgemental, one-to-one support."
Access the report at: http://www.ic.nhs.uk/pubs/infantfeeding10final
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