The Breastfeeding Network (BfN) welcomes the publication of the Scottish Maternal and Infant Nutrition Survey. It offers a useful insight into maternal and infant nutritional health in Scotland and this research is desperately needed since the cancellation of the UK-wide Infant Feeding Survey in 2010.
The Scottish survey shows that most women do want to breastfeed their babies, and that most babies receive some breastmilk, but, it also shows that there are big drop off rates, particularly in the first eight weeks.
With more than 20 years of experience supporting families, BfN understands that many women do find breastfeeding challenging, especially in the early days, and this is highlighted in the report. Breastfeeding is a skill that has to be learnt and most mothers and babies usually need a bit of practice to get it to work for them – it is completely normal in our society for women to need support with breastfeeding and our experience tells us that many of the challenges mentioned in the report can be overcome with access to good quality information and support.
The report shows that voluntary peer support for breastfeeding is difficult to access for many families, but that it is wanted (almost a fifth of mums felt having access to voluntary support would have been helpful), and where it is available, it is very helpful. The report suggests that dedicated peer support is very important to parents, in addition to support offered from healthcare professionals.
Scotland continues to face persistent health inequalities amongst the population and BfN believes that creating an enabling environment to support all families regardless of background or social standing to breastfeed could help reduce this ever-widening gap. The report highlights that babies in more deprived areas are less likely to receive any breastmilk at all (65% of babies in the most deprived areas received any breastmilk vs 86% in the least deprived areas).
Overall, it is encouraging to read that nearly three quarters of babies were receiving some breastmilk at six weeks old and 57% at six months – cautious comparison with the 2010 Infant Feeding Survey suggests that mothers who breastfeed now are doing so for longer than they did in 2010. The high intention rate to breastfeed amongst women is also an important opportunity that requires Scottish Government, working with others, to act responsibly to address the support needs, so those intentions can be fulfilled, and Scottish women and babies can be supported in achieving optimal health.
As a voluntary organisation working in Scotland, this report will help us to target even further the work we do, and we hope that the longer term impact of the report is that all families across Scotland will be equally able to access good quality, evidence based support to enable them to make informed choices about how they feed their babies.
If you would like to read the full results of the survey, you can view them online here