While almost three quarters of new mothers in England start breastfeeding, this drops to 44% just 6-8 weeks after birth, according to Public Health England. What’s the reason for this, and are mothers getting the support they need?
UK breastfeeding rates are some of the lowest in the world, according to a recent Unicef report. Of 123 countries, Ireland had the lowest rate of all (just 55% of babies are breastfed at least once) with France, the USA, Spain and the UK making up the rest of the bottom five.
A recent Public Health England survey found that:
- 24% of mums wished they had read about and were more prepared for breastfeeding before giving birth.
- 26% of those who had given breast milk to their first child wished they had known that asking for help can make a real difference.
- 31% of mothers felt embarrassed about asking for help with breastfeeding from healthcare professionals.
Below, we highlight some of the key resources available to help mothers with breastfeeding. We also take a look at your rights when breastfeeding in public.
Which? Birth Choice – answer a few questions and discover whether birth in a local labour ward, birth centre or at home would be best for you.
Four ways, while pregnant, to prepare for breastfeeding
- Choose a supportive hospital/birth centre When deciding where to give birth, look for Unicef’s Baby Friendly accreditation, awarded to maternity units that do a good job of supporting mothers and newborn babies to bond and breastfeed. We include this information in our hospital and birth centre profiles on the Which? Birth Choice website.
- Go to antenatal classes Many courses will go through how to get started with breastfeeding. Some course providers, such as La Leche League, run more in-depth breastfeeding workshops.
- Ask your midwife Your antenatal appointments are a good time to raise any questions you might have about breastfeeding. Midwives are trained to help you with your baby’s first feed after the birth and can also put you in touch with specialist staff, known as lactation consultants or infant feeding coordinators, if there are more complex issues to discuss.
- Use the Which? Birth Choice website We have you covered with answers to the key questions you might be asking. For starters, take a look at our guides to getting started with breastfeeding and breastfeeding essentials.
Five places to find breastfeeding support
- Contact a community midwife You should have been given details for midwives you can contact at any point if you need help. If your midwife identifies a problem, they can advise you on the best course of action.
- Speak to your health visitor When you see your health visitor, they’ll check how your baby is feeding, and this is a good time to ask any questions you have – but you can also do this between appointments.
- Go to an NHS breastfeeding clinic Many hospitals run daily or weekly breastfeeding clinics, where you can take your baby to be assessed for tongue-tie, get advice on latch and positioning, or simply speak to someone.
- Talk to other breastfeeding mums Breastfeeding counsellors and peer supporters are women who have breastfed their own babies and have some training in supporting other women. Speak to them at children’s centres, support groups or breastfeeding drop-ins.
- Find online breastfeeding support and helplines Organisations such as La Leche League, the National Breastfeeding Helpline, or the NCT (National Childbirth Trust), as well as Facebook breastfeeding groups and forums, can offer advice 24/7.
It takes around six weeks for breastfeeding to be established, and it’s not unusual to experience breastfeeding problems at any time. For more in-depth information, take a look at our full article on breastfeeding support.
What if breastfeeding isn’t for me?
You may decide that breastfeeding isn’t for you, or it might not work. If this is the case, there are alternatives, such as formula milk.
For labour wards, birth centres and health visitors to earn the Unicef Baby Friendly accreditation, they need to support mothers to make informed decisions when it comes to giving food or drink other than breast milk.
Should I buy a breast pump?
Breast pumps let you express milk for later use. This could come in handy if your baby has a longer stay in hospital, for example in an intensive care unit, or if you want your partner to help out with night feeds. Expressing is also useful if you’re returning to work but still want to breastfeed.
Check out our top tips on how to buy the best breast pump to find out how much you need to spend and features to look out for.
What are my rights when breastfeeding in public?
Breastfeeding in public is a contentious issue, but the Equality Act 2010 gives women the right to breastfeed in public without being refused service or discriminated against in any way.
This means, for example,that if you choose to breastfeed in a cafe, the staff aren’t allowed to refuse you service, ask you to stop breastfeeding or tell you to go to the toilet to feed your baby.
If you’re unlawfully asked to stop breastfeeding, you have the right to make a complaint. If this applies to you, use our template letter to complain about breastfeeding discrimination.