More mums opt to breastfeed but few stick at it, figures show

Breastfeeding infant
Image caption The World Health Organization recommends infants are breastfed exclusively for the first six months

More new mums are opting to breastfeed but very few stick at it for long enough, latest UK figures reveal.

The 2010 Infant Feeding Survey results from a poll of more than 10,000 women show 81 in every 100 start breastfeeding, up from 76 in 2005.

But after one week less than half of all new mothers are still exclusively breastfeeding.

And only one in every 100 manage the full recommended six months, the NHS Information Centre found.

This rate has remained static for years, despite repeated public health messages about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for six months for infant health.

Across the UK, 69% of mothers were exclusively breastfeeding at birth. At one week this had fallen to 46% and by six weeks the figure was 23%.

The data reveal three-quarters of mothers want to breastfeed and more than four in five say they are aware of the health benefits.

About a third of mothers were still breastfeeding (although not exclusively) at six months.

Common reasons for stopping breastfeeding were problems with the baby rejecting the breast or not latching on properly, having painful breasts or nipples and feeling that they had 'insufficient milk'.

Women were also less likely to try or persevere with breastfeeding if they themselves had been given formula as a baby and if none of their mum friends were breastfeeding.

Rosie Dodds, of the National Childbirth Trust, said the figures were a step in the right direction.

"There are some positives. Things are moving in the right direction, but in the UK we started from a low base with few women breastfeeding in the 70s.

"Confidence in breastfeeding in the UK is still very low and that is one of the reasons why many women use formula feeding as well as breast milk.

"It is important that mothers do what they feel is right for them and their baby and are given enough support and information to make this choice."

The Royal College of Midwives is 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.

The latest figures also show that fewer women are smoking and drinking alcohol during pregnancy and more are taking recommended supplements - folic acid and vitamin D.

In the UK, 12% of mothers continued to smoke throughout their pregnancy in 2010, down from 17% in 2005.

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