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Related to: Births and Fertility, Teenage Conceptions, Inequalities

Key Facts

  • Breastfeeding initiation rate of 84.1% in 2014/15, significantly higher than national and regional rates
  • Breastfeeding at 6-8 weeks is relatively high at 60%, compared to the national rate of 74.3%
  • There is large variation in breastfeeding prevalence rates between wards in B&NES, from as low as 37% in Radstock to 85% in Lambridge at 6-8 weeks
  • There is an association between socio-economic inequality and rates of breastfeeding
  • Young mothers (under 25) have a significantly lower rate of breastfeeding at 6-8 weeks

What does the data say?

Breastfeeding Prevalence at Initiation

This measure refers to the percentage of mothers who give their babies breast milk in the first 48 hours after delivery  [The numerator is the number of mothers initiating breast feeding and the denominator is the total number of maternities].

There is some evidence to suggest that babies who are breast fed experience lower levels of gastro-intestinal and respiratory infection. Observational studies have shown that breastfeeding is associated with lower levels of child obesity. Benefits to the mother include a faster return to pre-pregnancy weight and possibly lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer 1

The breastfeeding initiation rate for Bath and North East Somerset in 2014/15 was 84.1%, significantly higher than the national and regional rates of 74.3% and 79.0% respectively. For 2014/15, B&NES had the 3rd highest prevalence of breastfeeding initiation in the South West. 2

Breastfeeding Prevalence at 6-8 weeks

This is the percentage of infants that are totally or partially breastfed at age 6-8 weeks. Totally breastfed is defined as infants who are exclusively receiving breast milk at 6-8 weeks of age - that is, they are not receiving formula milk, any other liquids or food. Partially breastfed is defined as infants who are currently receiving breast milk at 6-8 weeks of age and who are also receiving formula milk or any other liquids or food. Not at all breastfed is defined as infants who are not currently receiving any breast milk at 6-8 weeks of age.

Figure 1: 6-8 week breastfeeding prevalence by financial year 2010/11 to 2014/15.

Note: There is no published figure for the South West 6-8 week breastfeeding prevalence in 2014/15 due to data quality issues.

At the end of the financial year 2014/15, the 6-8 week breastfeeding prevalence rate for Bath and North East Somerset was 60%, significantly higher than the national figure of 43.8% and historically the South West rate of ~49% (2014/15 SW rate not available due to data quality issues). Looking back as far as 2010/11, B&NES has seen significantly higher 6-8 week breastfeeding prevalence rates for all five financial years. 3

Note: Due to data quality issues, 6-8 week breastfeeding prevalence rates were not published in 2014/15 for 4 out of 16 local authorities in the South West region.

Bath and North East Somerset GP registered population (6-8 weeks breastfeeding prevalence) - 2 years data analysis Q1 2014/15 to Q4 2015/16

The following local data analysis is for mothers registered with B&NES GP surgeries and seen by locally commissioned health visitors, at 6-8 weeks after birth. It will not include those resident in B&NES but registered with GP surgeries outside of the local authority. It covers the period of 2 full years from Q1 2014/15 to Q4 2015/16.

Figure 2: 6-8 weeks breastfeeding prevalence by ward, 2 years, Q1 2014/15 to Q4 2015/16 (B&NES CCG GP registered population)

Though there is an overall relatively high prevalence for B&NES local authority, with rates as high as 85% in Lambridge ward, there is significant variation at ward level across B&NES (Figure 2). Six wards have a prevalence rate significantly below the local authority average, with the lowest being Radstock at 37%. Breastfeeding is known to be related to both socio-economic inequality and deprivation (more deprived mothers being less likely to breastfeed).4

This geographical variation can also be seen in Figure 3 below. The most deprived wards locally, such as Radstock, Westfield and Radstock have the lowest rates of breastfeeding at 6-8 weeks.

Figure 3: 6-8 week breastfeeding prevalence rate by ward in Bath and North East Somerset, 2 years, Q1 2014/15 – Q4 2015/16 (B&NES CCG GP registered population)

There is also significant variation in local 6-8 week breastfeeding prevalence by maternal age, with mothers aged under 19 and 19-24 year old mothers having significantly lower than average breastfeeding rates than older mothers (Figure 4)

Figure 4: Breastfeeding prevalence by maternal age, 2 years, Q1 2014/15 to Q4 2015/16 (B&NES CCG GP registered population)

Prevalence changes over time

There have been notable changes in 6-8wk breastfeeding prevalence rates within wards between the time periods Q4 2012/13 - Q3 2013/14 and Q1 2014/15 - Q4 2014/15 (two 2-year analyses). However, due to small numbers (and correspondingly large confidence intervals) none of these changes are statistically significant.

There was also a drop from 62.8% to 60.5% in breastfeeding prevalence for the local authority as a whole, however this is again not statistically significant. Drop in coverage rates is another possible reason for this decrease.

International Breastfeeding Trends 5

Published reports suggest that in the UK, only one in 200 women (0.5%) is still doing any degree of breastfeeding after a year. This compares to 23% in Germany, 56% in Brazil and 99% in Senegal. In the UK 81% of mothers had tried breastfeeding at some point, but only 34% were breastfeeding at 6 months and 0.5% at 12 months. The UK has the lowest rate of >1yr breastfeeding in the world.

The research (based on meta-analysis) indicated improvements in protection against child infections, malocclusion, increases in intelligence and probable reductions in diabetes and levels of unhealthy weight. No link was seen between levels of breastfeeding and allergic disorders such as asthma or with blood pressure of cholesterol and there was a noted increase in tooth decay with longer periods of breastfeeding.

For nursing women, breastfeeding was found to give protection against breast cancer, improved birth spacing and may also protect against ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes.

The report refutes the misconception that breastfeeding is only important in low and middle-income countries.