Breastfeeding rates in the UK are much lower than in many European countries. Less than 1 per cent of mothers in the UK are exclusively breastfeeding at six months.
A focus group study in the UK suggested a number of reasons why women may not breastfeed or why they stop breastfeeding early. These were as follows:
- The attitude of other people – women felt that breastfeeding in public was unacceptable and embarrassing, while bottle-feeding was accepted by everybody and in all places. A lack of places to breastfeed out of sight restricted women’s ability to get out of the house. This may be a bigger issue for low-income women, who may not have the option of breastfeeding in the car. Some women reported breastfeeding in public toilets as the only option. Women wished that cafés and shops could provide places to breastfeed with some privacy.
- Attitudes of family and friends – some women said that even family and friends found it ‘repulsive’ to be in the same room when they were breastfeeding. Some grandparents thought it excluded them from having the chance to feed the new baby. It was clear that the opinion of family and friends was a stronger influence than that of health practitioners.
- Lack of knowledge – women vaguely knew that breastfeeding was supposed to be beneficial, but they could not name any benefits, and were not convinced about them. In the study only one woman had learnt at school about benefits of breastfeeding; most did not hear about it until they were pregnant. Feeding was not well covered in antenatal classes.
- Lack of professional support – women experienced difficulty in trying to establish breastfeeding but were unwilling ‘to bother the midwife’. Bottle feeding seemed easier.
- Experience – breastfeeding seemed difficult and painful, and many women experienced problems ranging from getting the baby latched on, sore nipples, and disturbed sleep. Women, especially adolescents, complained of a lack of freedom to travel/socialise/work.
- Worry about baby’s weight gain – women said that health visitors were ‘always worried about weight gain’.
Although some women in this study mentioned the benefits of breastfeeding – including feelings of wellbeing and relaxation during feeds, convenience (less washing up), and less expense, it is clear that there are significant barriers for women in the UK which impact on their choice to breastfeed.
Source: McFadden A & Toole G (2006) Exploring women’s views of breastfeeding: a focus group study within an area with high levels of socio-economic deprivation. Maternal & Child Nutrition 2: 156-68.