New Breastfeeding Figures

There was an article on the BBC website on Tuesday that grabbed my attention. It discussed the breastfeeding figures over the last five years from The 2010 Infant Feeding Survey stating that the amount of mums that start breastfeeding has increased (from 76% to 81%). It continues to state that after one week less than half of all new mothers are still exclusively breastfeeding and only one in every 100 manage the full recommended six months.

My first thought when reading this is one of the frustrations I had working in the health visitors office and in public health getting this information from mothers. It always frustrated me that even if a baby was given a drink of something that wasn’t breastmilk, no matter the quantity, just one time, and was nothing but breastfed before or after this point, it still could not be classified as exclusively breastfeeding. UNICEF defines exclusively breastfeeding as “the infant has received only breastmilk from his/her mother or a wet nurse, or expressed breastmilk, and no other liquids or solids, with the exception of drops or syrups consisting of vitamins, mineral supplements or medicines.” I understand that in the realms or research and data collection, there has to be quantifiable and distinct definitions, but I do wonder sometimes if the figures sometimes don’t show the whole picture of the continued support and education given or the good breastfeeding a mum has done even if there has been just one bit of non-breastmilk given. For example, a mom that has decided to try a baby on rice cereal once at 5 ½ months but had exclusively breastfed to this point and after this until six months, is not considered exclusively breastfeeding. Neither would a baby who has been given solids consistently from an early age. Data collection by way of surveys, as this data was, allows a mother to tick a box without any space for discussion, interpretation, or understanding. It may be the best way to collate data, but it does make things so cut and dry.

I thought that I would have a look and see if any other publications reported on the survey and discovered that the Daily Mail released an article on Tuesday as well. It reports similar numbers as the BBC article, but does not cite the original source. The article seems to focus on the fact that it is over-30, educated mothers that achieve higher breastfeeding figures. It also states that “campaigners said the NHS’s goal was unrealistic given women’s day-to-day lives and the difficulties they encounter breast- feeding” and makes no mention of who these campaigners are. The thing that I found that grabbed my attention the most was the photos. One is of a breastfeeding baby looking peacefully content at the breast. The other is of a bottle-fed baby looking up into the eyes of his mother who is smiling down on him. I just thought that it was a shame that the breastfeeding mother’s face is not visible as it doesn’t show that connection that she has with her baby compared to what the bottle-fed baby is receiving.

Overall, I thought that the Daily Mail article was positive, if poorly cited, but then continued to read the comments added by readers at the bottom. At the time of my writing, there are 154 comments to this article. I was shocked by what I read. I was amazed at the number of comments that were so negative towards breastfeeding, not just a little negative, but SO negative. I felt really sorry for these people writing the comments as they seemed to be the people that have been failed by today’s society and our efforts in supporting people to what is only natural anyway. My biggest thought was how a mother who is thinking of breastfeeding or struggling with breastfeeding would feel if she read comments like that. I feel grateful for the support that is out there, but feel that it can get quickly undermined by people with louder voices.

The media is interesting. How a 36-page report can get summarised to a single article. So much more to explore with this…..