Archive | April, 2012

Breast is Best?

27 Apr

The subject of breastfeeding is not often talked about, or thought about by people other than expectant mothers and fathers. It is not common to go out in the United Kingdom (UK) and see someone breastfeeding their baby in public. Although it is well known that breast milk is the best start a baby can have, for some reason breastfeeding rates are not high. At one week old, only 35% of babies in the UK are breastfed, and by the time they are five months old this number drops to a mere 3% (UNICEF, 2005). This seems crazy considering the benefits of breast-feeding for both mother and child, and the fact that the price of formula milk costs around £100 per month.

A survey in The United States (US) revealed that 27% of people thought that breastfeeding was embarrassing, and a third of people thought that babies aged one year old or over should not be breastfed (Li, Fridinger & Grummer-Strawn, 2002).  Even breastfeeding mothers reported that they disapproved of breastfeeding in public, and said they were often ridiculed by their own friends, and found a lack of support from some health service providers (Guttman & Zimmerman, 2000). The most negative perceptions of breastfeeding came from people aged 30 and under, and those aged over 65, people will low income and less education (Li, Fridinger & Grummer-Strawn, 2002). Guttman and Zimmerman (2000) suggested that it is these negative perceptions of breastfeeding that discouraged some mothers, who would have liked to have breastfed their babies, from breastfeeding.

One of the major disadvantages of breastfeeding is the lack of freedom it gives the mother. Mothers who are planning on returning to work or education are often faced with the problem of having to wean their baby off the breast onto a bottle, which can be a challenge. Producing enough expressed milk for the baby to have whilst the mother is not there is also difficult. A mother returning to work is one of the major reasons for the decline in breastfeeding (Van Esterik & Greiner, 1981).  But whilst mothers who have worked and breastfed have reported it as challenging, they have also said that it is rewarding and worth doing (Zafar & Bustamante-Gavino, 2008).

If a breastfeeding mother chooses not to express, or her baby will not take a bottle (which is common with breastfed babies) the mother is pretty much attached to her baby 24 hours a day, every day, which can be very hard work. This also means that the father will not be able to bond with the baby, and unable to settle it. A breastfeeding mother is also advised to drink no alcohol, not to take illegal drugs and certain medication, not smoke, and is provided with a list of foods which may be harmful to the baby, give it colic, or make their milk taste bad. This all limits the freedom which the mother feels.

Around 50% of mothers who did begin breastfeeding their babies said that their reason for stopping feeding was the fact that their milk alone did not satisfy their baby (Li, Fein, Chen & Grummer-Strawn, 2008). The other two top reasons were that the baby began to bite, or lost interest in the breast and began to wean itself (Li, Fein, Chen & Grummer-Strawn, 2008). The reasons for stopping breastfeeding in the first month of the babies life were that the mothers experienced sore nipple, the babies would not latch on correctly, or there was not enough milk for them (Li, Fein, Chen & Grummer-Strawn, 2008).


[Graph above retreived from:

The above graph highlights the fact that most problems which breastfeeding mothers encounter are due to not enough or incorrect support and advice. This means that most problems could actually be stopped altogether.

There are certain medical and health conditions which make a mother unable to breastfeed, but these only account for 2% of women and their babies (Community Midwife, 2011), Apart from these 2% the other valid reasons to not breastfeed seem to be the lack of freedom it gives the mother and the publics perception of breastfeeding. These should not outweigh the emotional and physical benefits which breastfeeding gives to mother and baby.  More needs to be done to promote breastfeeding and to change the public’s opinion of it so that it can be accepted as a social norm.



Guttman, N., &Zimmerman, D. R. (2000). Low-income mothers’ views on breastfeeding. Social Science & Medicine, 50(10), 1457- 1473.

Li, R., Fein, S. B., Chen, J., & Grummer-Strawn, L. M. (2008). Why Mothers Stop Breastfeeding: Mothers’ Self-reported Reasons for Stopping During the First Year. Pediatrics, 122(2), 69- 76. doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-1315i

Li, R., Fridinger, F., & Grummer-Strawn. (2002). Public Perceptions on Breastfeeding Constraints. Human Lactation, 18(3), 227-235. doi: 10.1177/089033440201800304

Zafar, N., & Bustamante-Gavino, I. (2008). Breastfeeding and working full time Experiences of nurse mothers in Karachi, Pakistan. International Journal of Caring Sciences, 1(3), 132–139.