About this release

This release from Public Health Scotland provides an update of infant feeding statistics including data for children eligible for child health reviews in the financial year 2019 to 2020.

Encouraging and supporting breastfeeding is an important public health activity. There is good evidence that breastfeeding protects the health of children and mothers. Breastfeeding rates in Scotland are monitored and published annually. The information is collected at Health Visitor reviews of children at around 10 to 14 days (First Visit), 6 to 8 weeks, and 13 to 15 months of age.

Main points

  • Overall breastfeeding rates are increasing in Scotland, mainly due to the increase in mixed breast and formula feeding.
  • Almost two thirds (65%) of babies born in Scotland in financial year 2019 to 2020 were breastfed for at least some time after their birth.
  • More than half (53%) of babies were being breastfed at 10 to 14 days of age in financial year 2019 to 2020. This has increased from 44% in financial year 2002 to 2003.

 

 

Image caption Overall breastfeeding and formula feeding at First Visit, financial year 2002 to 2003 through to 2019 to 2020
Overall breastfeeding vs Formula feeding at First Visit, 2002/03-2019/20  Chart showing that overall breastfeeding (which includes exclusive breast and mixed breast and formula feeding) is increasing whilst formula feeding continues to decrease.
  • The percentage of babies being breastfed at 6 to 8 weeks of age has increased from 36% of babies in financial year 2002 to 2003 to 44% in financial year 2019 to 2020.
  • In financial year 2019 to 2020, one in five toddlers were still being breastfed at 13 to 15 months of age.
  • There are marked inequalities in breastfeeding, with babies of older mothers, and those in less deprived areas of Scotland more likely to be breast fed. However, there have been recent improvements in breastfeeding rates in younger mothers and those from more deprived areas.
  • In financial year 2019 to 2020, 74% of toddlers had been introduced to solid food at six months of age or older. Only 1% had been started on solids at less than four months of age.

Background

Breastfeeding provides the best nutrition for babies and young children and supports children’s health in the short and longer term. Current guidance recommends that babies should receive just breast milk for the first 6 months of life, then, after the introduction of solid foods, should continue to breastfeed up to their second birthday or for as long as the mother and baby wish.

There is strong evidence that breastfeeding reduces children’s risk of gut, chest, and ear infections and leads to a small but significant improvement in brain development and IQ. Breastfeeding also benefits mothers’ health, with strong evidence that it reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and some evidence that it may also promote maternal healthy weight and reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes. The benefits of breastfeeding for both baby and mother are seen across the world, including in high income countries such as Scotland.

Improving breastfeeding rates in Scotland would help to improve the health of babies and mothers, and reduce inequalities in health.

There is good evidence that interventions can work to improve breastfeeding rates. Overall, it is likely that comprehensive approaches that consider a wide range of issues will be most effective. Interventions within the health service, such as ensuring the availability and quality of breastfeeding support for new mothers, are important. Equally, wider interventions, such as influencing public attitudes to breastfeeding, restricting the inappropriate promotion of formula milk, and ensuring supportive employment policies that allow women to continue to breastfeed after returning to work, will also be required.

Further information

Find out more in the infant feeding statistics financial year 2018 to 2019 report, and in the accompanying interactive data visualisation. Background information can be found in the technical report.

PHS publishes a wide range of information on Child Health including early child development, immunisations, and Primary 1 Body mass Index (BMI). Further information is available on the Data and Intelligence website (external website).

The next release of this publication will be October 2021.

General enquiries

If you have an enquiry relating to this publication, please email phs.childhealthstats@phs.scot.

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Older versions of this publication

Versions of this publication released before 16 March 2020 may be found on the Data and Intelligence, Health Protection Scotland or Improving Health websites.

Last updated: 13 June 2022
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