As the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Conference opens in Glasgow, rising breastfeeding rates continue to save lives and address pressing health issues across Scotland
New figures released today show that an amazing 90% of Scottish mothers now give birth in a UNICEF UK accredited Baby Friendly hospital – where they are more likely to successfully breastfeed, and will receive higher standards of care around nurturing and feeding.
This compares with 30% of mothers in England, 58% for Wales and 57% in Northern Ireland.
The news of the high accreditation rates comes as the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Conference opens in Glasgow – an event which is highlighting the role breastfeeding plays in saving vulnerable babies lives and in helping to address some of the biggest health issues in Scotland.
Whilst most people know that breastfeeding saves lives in poor countries, far fewer realise that rising breastfeeding initiation rates are making such a difference in developed countries such as Scotland. Increasing rates are a success story north of the border, and can be attributed to the many years of hard work put in by infant feeding advisors, midwives, health visitors and peer supporters across the country.
Giving birth in a Baby Friendly accredited hospital increases the likelihood of a mother starting to breastfeed, as staff have been trained to help women breastfeed, and there will be policies in place to facilitate helpful breastfeeding and nurturing practices such as skin-to-skin contact.
The work carried out by the Baby Friendly Initiative is one of the ways in which the ground-breaking partnership between UNICEF and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games will reach its stated ambition of reaching every child in Scotland – as well as transforming lives of children in every Commonwealth country.
Rising breastfeeding initiation rates
Information from the Infant Feeding Survey demonstrates that the number of Scottish mothers starting to breastfeed has increased dramatically from 50% in 1990 to 74% in 2010, which reflects ongoing government investment and support for breastfeeding, including the nationwide implementation of the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly standards.
The Baby Friendly annual conference opening today (Weds 27 Nov), which features Public Health Minister Michael Matheson, celebrates this success as well as looking at how to address the enormous challenges that still lie ahead.
The biggest challenge currently faced is that whilst the majority of mothers are now starting to breastfeed, many mothers stop within a few days or weeks, often because they encounter problems which they don’t feel they can overcome. By six to eight weeks after birth, only 36.5% of women are still breastfeeding.
Health benefits
Breastfeeding is linked to a huge number of health benefits in both mother and child – including helping to prevent the onset of cancer, obesity, diabetes, gastroenteritis and various infections. But it has the most dramatic impact in the neo-natal ward, where human breast milk can save the lives of the most vulnerable babies.
First Minister Alex Salmond said:  “UNICEF’s Baby Friendly Initiative performs so well as it works in partnership with health professionals to support women successfully establish safe feeding practices. It’s fantastic that UNICEF has again chosen to hold their Baby Friendly international conference here in Scotland.

“To ensure that more of our hospitals achieve Baby Friendly status the Scottish Government is providing additional financial support to boards and funding the 4-year appointment of a Professional Officer for Scotland for Scotland. We want Scotland to be the best country in the world to grow up, that why I welcome the progress so far, with 90% of births in Scotland taking place in a Baby Friendly accredited hospital. This support helps to ensure that babies born in Scotland get the very best start in life, and live longer healthier lives.

“Every single NHS Board in Scotland is working towards achieving and maintaining Baby Friendly status in both hospital and community setting and testament to this is the achievement of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, the first health authority in these islands to achieve full Baby Friendly accreditation across all its maternity units and community settings.”
UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Director Sue Ashmore said: “Having nine out of ten women giving birth in a Baby Friendly accredited hospital is an incredible achievement, and is very good news for all Scottish mums and babies!
“It is due to the fact that the Scottish Government has consistently taken a proactive approach to raising breastfeeding rates, financing infant feeding posts, setting breastfeeding rate targets and funding assessments of units to go Baby Friendly.
“It shows what can be done when the will is there. This commitment needs to continue, as far too many mothers encounter difficulties once they get home and stop breastfeeding before  they want to. However, in Scotland, mothers can be sure that the drive to improve care around breastfeeding and nurturing will continue.”
Theresa McElhone, Baby Friendly lead officer for Scotland, said: “I have worked as a midwife for more than 40 years in Scotland, and I have seen a transformation from a total bottle feeding culture in the 70s, through to today when nearly three quarters of women start off breastfeeding.
“In some places, particularly in more deprived areas, breastfeeding is still seen as socially unacceptable, and these mothers and babies are the ones we really want to try to reach. So there is much more to be done, but it is worth stopping every now and then to applaud the excellent progress which has taken place so far.”


Notes to editors, facts and figures:

For more information or to request an interview please contact Sarah Vincent in the UNICEF UK Media office on or 07814 447935

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do.  Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.  UNICEF UK raises funds for UNICEF’s emergency and development work and advocates for lasting change for children everywhere. We are a UK registered charity, supported entirely by voluntary donations. We do not receive any money from the UN. For more information, please visit

● The Baby Friendly Initiative helps new mothers give their babies the best possible start in life. We work with hospitals and other health services, helping mothers with bonding, breastfeeding and building their confidence. A set of evidence-based standards helps health settings to improve care, and a unit receives the globally recognised Baby Friendly Award when it has been assessed as having all the standards in place.
● The Baby Friendly Initiative has recently launched new standards, which focus on a holistic and mother-centred approach to breastfeeding and building close and loving relationships between parents and their baby, throughout maternity, neonatal, health visiting and early years settings. These new standards will help women to breastfeed for as long as they choose, and enable them to achieve maximum health and wellbeing benefits for themselves and their babies.
● The new standards were developed following a wide consultation with mothers and health professionals, and will also help address Scottish data which show how breastfeeding rates continue to vary widely by geographical area and are strongly linked to deprivation, maternal age and Baby Friendly status. (In Scotland, 60% of the most deprived mothers initiate breastfeeding compared to 88% of least deprived).
● Earlier this month new research from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health backed up other studies that have shown that being a Baby Friendly accredited unit leads to higher breastfeeding rates.
● NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, recommends that all health facilities implement the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Standards, as does the Scottish Government
● 100% of Scottish maternity hospitals are working towards Baby Friendly accreditation, with 74% (20 out of 27) already accredited
● NHS Glasgow and Clyde was the first Health Board to go completely Baby Friendly back in 2011, with standards to support and protect breastfeeding in place across all maternity and community health settings.
● There are now four Health Boards which are fully Baby Friendly: NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, NHS Highland, NHS Ayrshire & Arran and NHS Lanarkshire
● According to the five-yearly Infant Feeding Survey (IFS), breastfeeding initiation rates in each of the four UK countries, in 2010, was 83% in England, 74% Scotland, 71% Wales and 64% in Northern Ireland.
● However, Scotland has shown the fastest increase in breastfeeding initiation rates, rising from 50% in 1990 to 63% in 2000 and 74% in 2010.
● Breastfeeding has been shown to have a profound affect on the health of both mother and baby, with breastfed babies less likely to suffer from gastroenteritis, respiratory infections, ear infections, and mothers less likely to get breast and ovarian cancer and osteoporosis. Breastfeeding has also been linked to lower childhood rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity as well as better cognitive development
● In the neo-natal unit, breastmilk is literally life-saving, as it reduces the chance of contracting the potentially fatal necrotising enterocolitis
Case studies

1. A mum - Tammy’s story:
“Breastfeeding is not something I thought about during my pregnancy. None of my family or friends had breastfed so I planned to do what I had seen and that was to give “baby milk”, formula feed.
Until… my son was born at 29 weeks. I was asked to provide breast milk whilst he stayed in intensive care. After overcoming the emotion and stress of being separated from my baby and not knowing how my body made milk I started to express breastmilk, giving anything I got to the staff to feed my baby.
The emotional rollercoaster didn’t get any easier. On day seven we were informed that Christopher had meningitis. When he started to get stronger I continued to have skin to skin contact with my son at any opportunity, and on one amazing occasion  at about  three weeks old he rooted and attached and fed, it was the best feeling in the world!.  At that point I thought ‘my baby knows what he wants’ and that’s when I decided to continue to breastfeed.
“The next few weeks were again challenging. I was spending every waking minute with him in the neonatal unit, but having to leave him at night, which was hard. But I was determined, and at five and a half weeks I got the best birthday present I could ever imagine: I got to take my son home, exclusively breastfeeding.
“At home, I started attending my local breastfeeding support group,  where I was asked to become a volunteer. I trained to become a Community Mother and got a great feeling of satisfaction helping and supporting other mums whilst promoting breastfeeding. 
“I continued to breastfeed Christopher to the age of two and half years old. Shortly afterwards I had my little girl and I exclusively breastfed her to the age of three.
My son is now a healthy boy and has met all his milestones and I do personally believe “my” breast milk has had a lot to do with that!
“Since my feeding experience has been so visual other members of my family have gone on to breastfeed.  I believe I have given my children the best start in life and love the closeness and bond I have with my children.  I have come full circle, from not planning to breastfeed, to successfully feeding both of my children and supporting other mothers to do so. “
2. A breastfeeding coordinator: Janet
Janet and her team work with breastfeeding mums from the Dundee area, including in some of the most deprived areas where historically breastfeeding rates have been lowest.
She explains some of the myths and challenges that her team try to address:
“The most common challenge is that people don't believe that breastfeeding is any different to bottle feeding, as the formula industry has managed to convince the public this is true. But telling new mums stories of other mums is very powerful, in that mums who have bottle fed their first two children and then gone on to breastfeed their third do notice the difference in the health of their children. The breastfed child has fewer colds, coughs and infections in comparison to the other children in the family. We always tell our mums what other mums say rather than quote policy.
Another challenge is a perception that breastfeeding is disgusting and why would you want to do that? We have work with local cafes and restaurants where knowledge is limited. Giving information about being a mother and the importance of supporting them gives a chance of perceptions being more balanced. We have cafes promoting breastfeeding after training their staff.
“In some of our school work some young boys thought is was better for the mum to go to the loos to feed as it was embarrassing for them. When asked if they often ate in the toilet they totally agreed this was a horrible thing to do. So feeding in public was okay after talking about it.”