Alison Edwards

Alison Edwards

By Alison Edwards, Senior Lecturer in Midwifery at Birmingham City University’s Faculty of Health

Breastfeeding is without doubt the optimal form of infant feeding. However, globally the rate of breastfeeding mothers varies considerably, with current rates in the UK being around 81 per cent and rising on an annual basis. Peer support for mothers wishing to initiate breastfeeding, is however, somewhat hit and miss or as the media would express it ‘a postcode lottery’. Within the UK, alongside midwives, there are both voluntary and paid sources of support for women though again accessing these is dependent on a number of factors; not least individuals knowledge of their existence or the ability to fund them. A variety of support groups including the National Childbirth Trust, La Leche and the Breastfeeding network, alongside staff at children’s centres and the health exchange are available, though not in every corner of Britain and they are largely dependent on funding and or volunteers.

A woman’s first introduction to breastfeeding in the UK is most likely to happen within the first hour of birth with a midwife’s input. From then on continuation of breastfeeding can be affected by a speedy discharge, and the amount of resources and support available when at home. Several areas have employed a breastfeeding buddy system for example, though again this isn’t available everywhere.

Lack of support can lead to women giving up even trying to establish milk production, which can take up to six weeks post birth. Indeed evidence points to a reduced rate of uptake amongst Caucasian and lower socio economic groups, whereas many Asian cultures have support from experienced family members in their home, and go on to breastfeed for lengthy periods. Interestingly teenage mothers also prove to be very successful at breastfeeding, especially if they have support from a partner. The situation is further affected by the fact that breastfeeding in public continues to remain a ‘taboo’ activity within the British society, which in turn discourages many women from continuing.

Breastfeeding around the world can also be affected by the availability of resources, particularly in third world countries where high rates of HIV and poor water supplies exist. Breastfeeding here is optimal as it is the safest option. In contrast more affluent countries like the United States and the UK have lower rates. Highest rates of all can be found in Scandinavian countries, where resources and support are readily available, with over 90 per cent of women exclusively giving breast milk for the first few weeks of life.

It is clear that strides are being made to improve rates of breastfeeding within Britain and several institutions have been acknowledged with baby friendly awards for their work in this area. What perhaps is now required is the increase in the amount of resources available across the entire country. Perhaps we now need to look towards those countries and cultures who have high success rates and follow their example.

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Alison Edwards

Alison Edwards

Senior Lecturer in Midwifery at Birmingham City University’s Faculty of Health