Mothers are giving up breastfeeding because they are too embarrassed, don’t want to be tied down and fear babies aren’t getting enough milk.
Figures from more than 152 000 British women show that less than half – 45 percent – still give their babies breast milk at two months.
The NHS recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months and after that given a combination of breast milk and food for about a year. But latest statistics from the UK government’s quarterly survey show only 30 percent of babies aged six to eight weeks were given solely breast milk.
Another 15 percent of the 152 169 women who completed the questionnaire said they were partially breastfeeding at that stage – and giving babies some formula milk.
Britain has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. A Lancet study in January showed only 0.5 percent of UK babies are still given breast milk after a year compared with 23 percent in Germany, 56 percent in Brazil and 99 percent in Senegal, West Africa.
To try to establish the reasons for this, Public Health England carried out a separate survey on 500 new mothers. Nearly two thirds – 63 percent – said they would be worried about breastfeeding in front of strangers while 44 percent were wary of doing so with friends.
Fifty-four percent said they were concerned their babies were getting too little or too much milk, while 51 percent claimed breastfeeding would "tie them down" and prevent them "doing what they want" when it came to work, family or friends. And 71 percent said breastfeeding would prevent them drinking alcohol. Women are advised to have no more than one or two drinks whilst breastfeeding as the alcohol can get into their milk.
The survey did not establish whether mothers gave up breastfeeding for these reasons. But it does shed light on why UK breastfeeding rates are low despite the clear health benefits for mother and baby.
Breast milk contains antibodies passed on from the mother that boost a baby’s immune system and help it fight infections and viruses.
There is also evidence that breastfed babies have higher IQs and are less at risk of obesity – formula milk is higher in fat. Breastfeeding is beneficial for the mother and enables her to bond with the newborn. It also enables her to lose weight, as nursing mothers burn up to 500 calories a day extra.