Statistics about Breastfeeding in England

Currently, statistics show that the majority of mothers in England choose to breastfeed their babies. The British statistics also turn up some other surprises, however. For instance, breastfeeding rates have been climbing until recently, especially among older women, professionals and ethnic minorities.

When the British government released its latest annual report on breastfeeding statistics in November 2012, the numbers showed such a surprising increase in breastfeeding rates that the media promptly labeled it a “breastfeeding boom.” Those figures indicated that fully 81 percent of English mothers now opt for breastfeeding – a massive increase over the same figure during the 1990s, when it was just 66 percent. Those numbers stay high over the infant’s first few months of life, too. After six months, 34 percent of mothers are still breastfeeding, compared to just 21 percent in the 1990s. England is actually higher than the rest of the United Kingdom: 83 percent of women in England breastfeed, compared to just 74 percent in Scotland and 71 percent in Wales. The number falls all the way down to 64 percent in Northern Ireland.

Although these were encouraging numbers to those who advocate breastfeeding, there’s also signs that a trend which has been building for the last decade shows signs of peaking. While 2012 saw record high rates, in June 2013 the Department of Health reported that 2013’s numbers, once they’re compiled next year, might not be as encouraging. These new figures suggested a slight decrease in the number of mothers who breastfed.

Part of the increase might be a result of the decision by the National Health Service (NHS) to publish new guidelines recommending that babies be given exclusively breast milk for the first six months, followed by a mixture of breast milk and other foods for some time after that date. However, according to the new statistics, just one percent of women said they had decided to breastfeed because of the NHS recommendations and kept exclusively breastfeeding for the whole six months. After just eight weeks, the government records show, the breastfeeding rate fell below 50 percent.

Those last numbers have some advocates and researchers worried. Heather Trickey of the National Childbirth Trust, for instance, says she is “concerned that a high proportion of mothers stop before they planned to.” Trickey thinks that might be because “many women are still not getting all the support they need during this critical adjustment period.” The Royal College of Midwives has also echoed concerns that postnatal support is lacking due to resource and staffing cuts. 

The final piece of information supplied by the new survey was that certain groups of women are much more likely to breastfeed than others. UNICEF reports that the mothers who were most likely to breastfeed were older (30 years and up), members of ethnic minorities, had some postsecondary education, lived in affluent neighbourhoods, or had jobs in management and the professions. The statistics were reported as is, without any attempt to explain why these groups of women were more likely to choose to breastfeed their babies.