The Case for Baby Friendly

Our work is based on extensive and resounding evidence that breastfeeding helps to save lives, improve health and cut costs in every country worldwide.

Research has shown that even modest increases in breastfeeding can result in significant savings. As evidenced by studies showing the effectiveness of the Baby Friendly Initiative, the Baby Friendly standards are proven to deliver this change for public services, whilst ensuring long lasting, sustainable improvements in the care of mums and babies. Initial costs are recuperated within three years, and careful initial planning and investment will mean the sustainability of the standards and subsequent cost savings for many years to come.

The importance of breastfeeding is recognised in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. UK governments and the WHO recommend that all babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, and thereafter alongside other foods for around two years. However, in the UK we have some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, with eight out of ten women stopping breastfeeding before they want to. This is having a profound impact on the life chances of our children, and the mental wellbeing of mothers.

Many mothers struggle to get breastfeeding off to a good start, often due to a lack of consistent breastfeeding support in healthcare and community services. In addition, breastfeeding is a highly emotive subject because so many families have not breastfed, or have experienced the trauma of trying very hard to breastfeed and not succeeding. No parent deserves to feel this pain; it is time to recognise that the UK’s low breastfeeding rate is a major public health issue for which we must all take responsibility.

Breastfeeding rates in comparable European countries, with similar population sizes and demographics, show that it is possible to increase rates with a supportive breastfeeding culture and the political will to do so. Increasing the UK’s breastfeeding rates would have a profoundly positive impact on the health and life chances of our children. For example, increasing the number of babies who are breastfed could cut the incidence of common childhood illnesses such as ear, chest and gut infections and save the NHS up to £50 million each year. That’s money that could be spent elsewhere improving the lives of children up and down the country.

To breastfeed successfully, mothers require face-to-face, ongoing, predictable support across all public services, and social support in their local community . The Baby Friendly Initiative enables mothers to receive this help within healthcare services, delivering a holistic, child-rights based pathway for improving care for babies, their mothers and families. We provide the crucial impetus that busy health professionals need to raise standards, enabling them to prioritise what is best for each and every child above the pressures of tightening funds and staff, and providing an easy to follow and achievable roadmap for improvement.

Unicef, working in partnership with the WHO, is uniquely placed to deliver this life-saving work. We have the knowledge, credibility and infrastructure to work with an organization the size of the NHS to put the standards in place to make a difference to children’s lives across the UK.

In this video, we highlight the issues behind the UK’s low breastfeeding rates, and call on UK and devolved governments to take urgent steps to tackle this.

For breastfeeding to work, you need someone to turn to who believes it’s important and believes you can do it.
Sue Ashmore, Programme Director

Further reading

Just starting out, or already on the journey to Baby Friendly? See how to make it happen on our Accreditation pages. For more information on commissioning local infant feeding services, see Appendix 2, p129 of the Evidence and rationale for the Baby Friendly standards.

Making the Case for Breastfeeding, which you can download below, is a paper outlining the drivers and areas for action to improve breastfeeding rates in the region, by Public Health England West Midlands Centre.


Making the Case for Breastfeeding


Walsall Public Health Services Contract - Template for Public Health Services

This document shows how different public services in an area can work together to provide breastfeeding support.