In a new book due to be launched this week in London, a Swansea University academic says that breastfeeding levels in the UK are now amongst the lowest in the world and calls for greater support and investment for new mothers to start and continue breastfeeding.
In Breastfeeding Uncovered: Who really decides how we feed our babies? published by Pinter & Martin, Dr Amy Brown of the Department of Public Health, Policy and Social Sciences brings together over twelve years of research exploring the barriers women can face when breastfeeding in the UK. She explores why although over 90% of women want to breastfeed, complex social and cultural issues work against new mothers, leading to many deciding to stop in the early days and weeks despite being deeply unhappy with this decision. Comparatively women in other countries receive the support to breastfeed for much longer.
Dr Brown explains: “Physiologically speaking the majority of women should be able to breastfeed. However, we do not have the investment and support in the UK that new mothers need. Hospital services are underfunded and the government has withdrawn funding to many voluntary support groups. Staff are under too much pressure and don’t have the time needed to support new mums with getting breastfeeding off to a good start.
However Dr Brown argues that it is more than that ‘Our society is not set up to understand and support breastfeeding and these messages can damage breastfeeding: “We have lost sight of what normal baby behaviour is like. We expect babies to feed to a set schedule, sleep through the night and need little interaction and when they don’t act like this, we think something is wrong and often blame breastfeeding. It is perfectly normal for babies to feed very frequently – they have tiny tummies after all – and waking up at night to feed is part of this. Babies also want to be kept close – they’ve spent nine months in the womb and are programmed to stay close to their mum so that they’re safe. We need to understand this and instead look after our new mothers so that they don’t find this quite so exhausting and overwhelming. However instead, we put pressure on them to get their lives back as quickly as possible.
On top of that the UK is not breastfeeding friendly. Breastfeeding should just be seen as the normal behaviour it is. However more people here believe that smacking children is ok that believe breastfeeding in public is ok. It sparks high levels of debate in the press and online, much of which can be highly critical of breastfeeding and women who do so. Women can end up feeling uncomfortable feeding in public or start to question whether they have done something wrong.’
Dr Brown urges: We need to raise breastfeeding rates in the UK, not just to improve both the health of mothers and babies but because this could save our already struggling NHS hundreds of millions of pounds each year. However until we all work together to be more supportive of breastfeeding, we will continue to be at the bottom of those league tables. We need to call on the government for better investment in services, value and care for our new mothers more and protect them to breastfeed whenever they want.
Dr Amy Brown
Dr Amy Brown is an Associate Professor at Swansea University’s College of Human and Health Sciences at Swansea University and is the programme director for the MSc Child Public Health . Her research areas include infant nutrition, breastfeeding, weaning, obesity, pregnancy, postnatal depression and parenting. She has presented her research at the House of Commons to a cross-party group of Westminster MPs and peers looking at the issue of breastfeeding in the UK.
- Monday 14 November 2016 15.09 GMT
- Monday 15 July 2019 15.32 BST
- Crystal Evans