The Office for National Statistics performs its Infant Feeding Survey every five years. The figures from the 2005 survey were published in March 2008. The 2005 figures show some significant improvements from the 2000 survey. Key findings were:
• The proportion of babies breastfed at birth in the UK rose by seven per cent.
• Initiation rates in both Scotland and Northern Ireland rose by eight per cent and those in England and Wales by seven per cent.
• Scotland showed the greatest increases in the prevalence of breastfeeding at ages up to nine months in 2000, but appears to have stabilised in 2005, with a small increase in the rate at four months and no increase at six and nine months. By contrast, the other countries show an increase at all ages.
• Overall, only 35 per cent of UK babies are being exclusively breastfed at one week, 21 per cent at six weeks, 7 per cent at four months and 3 per cent at five months.
• In 2005, for the first time, figures for Wales were separated from those for England. This will enable each country to see their individual progress in the next survey, which will take place in 2010 and results for which will be published in 2013.

Figures from the 2010 Infant Feeding Survey were published in November 2012. The 2010 figures show some significant improvements from the 2005 survey. Key findings were:

  • The proportion of babies breastfed at birth in the UK rose by 5%, from 76% to 81%.
  • The initial breastfeeding rate in 2010 was highest in England at 83% (compared with 74% in Scotland, 71% in Wales, and 64% in Northern Ireland). Exclusive breastfeeding at six weeks was 24% in England and 22% in Scotland, compared to 17% in Wales and 13% in Northern Ireland.
  • Across the UK, at three months, the number of mothers breastfeeding exclusively was 17% (up from 13% in 2005) and at four months, it was 12% (up from 7% in 2005). However, exclusive breastfeeding at six months remains at around 1%.
  • Rates of ‘any breastfeeding’ showed a rise. At six weeks, the number of women breastfeeding at all was 48% in 2005 and 55% in 2010, while at six months they were 25% in 2005 and 34% in 2010.
  • The survey also found that mothers are introducing solids later, with a significant fall in the number introducing solids by four months from 51% in 2005 to 30% in 2010.
  • Breastfeeding was most common among mothers who were: aged 30 or over, from minority ethnic groups, left education aged over 18, in managerial and professional occupations and living in the least deprived areas.

A major meta-analysis has found the Baby Friendly Initiative to be the most effective programme for improving breastfeeding rates. Find out more about the programme.

In 2012, UNICEF published Preventing disease and saving resources: The potential contribution of increasing breastfeeding rates in the UK which looked at how raising breastfeeding rates could save the NHS money through improving health outcomes. Click here to read more about the report.

Find out more about Baby Friendly statistics for the UK.