Friday, 25 April 2014

Breastfeeding improving most among mums from disadvantaged backgrounds

Mothers who breastfeed are managing to breastfeed for longer, a trend particularly noticeable among mothers from disadvantaged backgrounds. Dr Valeria Skafida used data from the Growing Up in Scotland to investigate whether rates of breastfeeding amongst mothers in Scotland between 2004 and 2011 may have been influenced by public health policy. Here she talks us through the key findings.

The findings are based on Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) data of more than 5000 mothers, which assessed their breastfeeding habits in the first 10 months of their babies’ lives. It compared results from 2004 and 2011.
  • Mothers from more advantaged backgrounds are far more likely to try breastfeeding at least once, when compared to mothers from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • While the total number of women who breastfed their babies at least once increased by only 3% between 2004 and 2011, those who did breastfeed are feeding for longer.
  • Mothers who gave birth in 2011 and who managed to breastfeed beyond the first month had a 25% higher chance of breastfeeding for longer compared with mothers in 2004. 
  • This was far more pronounced among mothers from disadvantaged backgrounds. Mothers with few or no educational qualifications had a 150% higher chance of continuing to breastfeed for between 6 and 10 months in 2011 than their peers did in 2004.
  • The study also found that mothers in households where a language other than English was spoken had a four times higher chance to breastfeed their child compared with mothers where only English was spoken.
  • There remains a significant proportion of women who stop breastfeeding within the first month. Not having enough milk was the most commonly given reason for stopping so early.
In the past decade, the Scottish Government has been at the forefront of public health policies among developed nations in terms of breastfeeding promotion. Changes have occurred at policy level, in national legislation, in hospitals and in health care staff training. One of the key shifts since 2005, in health services aimed at children has been the recognition that families assessed as being more vulnerable would benefit from being offered more intensive support. These findings, by comparing the lives and habits of families before and after the policies were introduced, have the potential to demonstrate the value of policies to tackle health-related issues among disadvantaged populations.

For more information:
CRFR briefing 71: Changes in Scottish infant feeding policy and breastfeeding habits between 2004 and 2011.

Skafida, V. (2014) Change in breastfeeding patterns in Scotland between 2004 and 2011 and the role of health policy. European Journal of Public Health.

They study has already attracted keen interest from the Scottish Government and public health analysts. Acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Aileen Keel, welcomed the research, particularly noting the encouraging trend among mums from disadvantaged backgrounds. Similarly Minister for Public Health Micheal Matheson was  pleased to see a rise in the number of mothers from disadvantaged backgrounds who have breastfed for longer, especially in light of the longlasting health benefits this brings and evidence to suggest that breastfed babies are less likely to use NHS services in later life.

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