New Public Health England survey: Perceived barriers to breastfeeding

A mother will always want the best for her new born baby and when it comes to feeding, the research demonstrates that breastmilk provides the best nutritional support for a growing infant. However, in reality, breastfeeding rates in the UK are low. New survey data from Public Health England (PHE) and NHS England indicates that although almost three-quarters of women start breastfeeding when their child is born, within 6-8 weeks this has dropped to 44%.

The survey of 500 mothers has helped to shed further light on why these levels are low and the barriers and concerns experienced by mothers. In particular:

  • More than half were concerned that breastfeeding could mean they wouldn’t be able to tell if their baby was getting enough or too much milk.
  • 49% of mothers believed that they may have to eat a special diet to breastfeed.
  • Nearly 3 in 10 were worried that breastfeeding could mean their baby might not be getting the right nutrients.
  • 71% thought it could prevent them from taking medication.
  • 51% said that it could tie them down and stop them doing what they want to.

Breastfeeding Friend (BFF) ChatBox – a new interactive breastfeeding support tool

The right support, as highlighted in the PHE survey, is key to improving the length of time for which a mother will breastfeed. Start4Life has launched a new interactive Breastfeeding Friend (BFF) ChatBot to help provide advice to mothers and support their breastfeeding experience. This live chat tool is available day and night. It is hoped that it will help to dispel such myths that were found in the recent survey (as mentioned above) and alleviate any concerns new mums might have. 

The social expectations of breastfeeding mothers

Breastfeeding is a completely natural process and at no other stage in life will a single food (breastmilk) provide an adequate sole source of nutrition. Yet, despite this obvious need to feed a child, regardless of environment (babies can feed at least eight times per day), breastfeeding in public is a contentious issue which courts a high degree of debate. The impact of this on mothers is reflected in the survey with those polled confirming their concern about breastfeeding in public; 63% said they would feel embarrassed to breastfeed in the presence of people they do not know, 59% feeling the same about a partner’s family and 49% about siblings and wider family members. Ensuring breastfeeding is viewed as socially normal and acceptable is a vital step in improving the low breastfeeding rates which are seen across the UK. As demonstrated by the new PHE survey, the positive influence from high-profile celebrities who champion breastfeeding led to 49% of mothers feeling inspired to breastfeed their own babies and 64% feeling more confident to do so in public.

This survey further helps to demonstrate that improved education and support for mothers as well as better social acceptance of breastfeeding (like that seen in Scandinavian countries such as Sweden and Norway where the rates of breastfeeding are much higher compared to the UK) would all play an important role in increasing UK breastfeeding rates.

Survey published by PHE and available at: