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  1. ITV Report

Barriers to Breastfeeding: Why rates in Wales are amongst the lowest in the world

Only 26 percent of mother's in Wales are still breastfeeding six weeks after giving birth. Credit: ITV Wales

Breastfeeding is the most 'natural' way for a mother to feed her baby, but with only a quarter of women doing so six weeks after giving birth however 'natural' it may be it is no longer the 'norm'.

In fact, breastfeeding rates in Wales are amongst the lowest in the world.

Figures from Public Health Wales show that while over 63 percent of expectant mothers intend to breastfeed their babies, just 26 percent continue doing so.

For many new mothers breastfeeding can cause a lot of stress and anxiety because again, while it is a ‘natural’ thing to do it is not always easy, especially in the early days

Many mothers describe a sense of ‘failure and guilt’ at being unable to breastfeed but according to author and Professor Amy Brown, it is not the mother who is failing but rather the system failing the mother.

Professor Amy Brown attributes low rates of breastfeeding to a lack of support for mothers. Credit: ITV Wales News

It comes at women from every level really. We encourage women to breastfeed but then often the support services aren't there for them.

So the midwives are overstretched in the hospital and they really want to help but often don't have enough time. Peer support groups, support out in the community, the cuts are there.

With all the cuts that are being made across the UK that is really something that is starting to affect women because they are not getting the support that they need.

– Professor Amy Brown, Child Public Health, Swansea University

In addition to the issue of support Professor Brown also attributes the low rates of breastfeeding in Wales to a 'formula feeding culture'.

If you go back generations, we've been formula feeding for quite a while now and what that means is a lot of women don't have the information, the knowledge in their families about what breastfeeding is really like.

Perhaps our parents, grandparents they formula fed so when we go and have a problem and we ask them 'is this right for my baby? Am I doing this the right way?' often they don't know how to help and they end up suggesting a bottle of formula instead because they don't understand maybe how much that mother wants to breastfeed.

– Professor Amy Brown, Child Public Health, Swansea University
The rates of breastfeeding vary considerably throughout areas of Wales. Credit: ITV Wales

The figures also reveal a stark disparity in breastfeeding rates in different parts of Wales.

While 84.6 percent of women in Powys intend to breastfeed the number of mothers doing so drops by almost half six weeks after giving birth.

Breakdown of breast feeding rates by Health Board -

Those intending to breastfeed at birth:

  • Powys - 84.6%
  • Cardiff - No figure
  • Hywel Dda - 66.7%
  • Betsi - 54.9%
  • Abertawe Bro Morgannwg - 61.9%
  • Aneurin Bevan - 59.9%
  • Cwm Taf - 49.7%

Those feeding at 6 weeks following birth:

  • Powys - 37.5%
  • Cardiff - 31.9 %
  • Hywel Dda - 29.7%
  • Betsi - 25.3%
  • Abertawe Bro Morgannwg - 21.9 %
  • Aneurin Bevan - 17.6 %
  • Cwm Taf - 15.7 %

The Welsh Government say that they are 'committed to giving every child the best start in life and know that breastfeeding is beneficial for the health and development of both mother and baby.

They also responded by saying that they are currently finalising a 'national breastfeeding action plan to ensure best practice and provide families with access to information and support in relation to breastfeeding.'

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that mothers breastfeed their baby for the first six months of life, after which they can start eating solids, supplemented by breastfeeding.

It places no upper age limit on breastfeeding but encourages mothers to do so until their child is around two years old.

With so much misinformation about breastfeeding Professor Amy Brown debunks some common breastfeeding myths.