Are current breastfeeding messages unhelpful?

New research suggests it may be time to change the messages around breastfeeding, in order to help mums breastfeed for longer


We’ve heard the “breast is best” message and know the official advice is to feed by breast exclusively for our baby’s first six months, but could this approach being missing the mark? Well, new research suggests these messages may not successfully encourage us to exclusively breastfeed for six months, and could actually make many mums feel like failures.


Interviews with mums have revealed that the benefits of breastfeeding and World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines are well understood. But the “breast only” message could make women feel guilty if the reality didn’t match up.

Breastfeeding has been associated with a huge number of benefits for both mum and baby, including boosting the immune system and helping development. Because of this, the majority of new mums, 82%, give it a go. However, just 1% of babies in the UK are exclusively breastfed for six months, reports the Independent.

Many of the 220 mums interviewed felt under huge pressure to breastfeed and thought the messages from both health professionals and the media pushed them into an “all or nothing” rather than “try it and see” approach. This left them feeling like failures when they didn’t achieve their goal of feeding their baby exclusively on breast milk for the first six months, the researchers from University of Aberdeen found.

Gail Johnson, from the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), added that this disappointment could also be down to a shortage of midwives, which can leave many women feeling unsupported if they have problems breastfeeding.

The report’s authors have recommended changing the message. Rather than “breastfeed exclusively for six months,” they suggest mums should be advised to “breastfeed as long as you can and introduce solid foods as close to six months as possible.”

The research comes less than two months after the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) explained plans to drop its ‘evangelical’ stance on breastfeeding.

What kind of approach would you like to see taken?

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