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 2020 to 2021.

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 continue to increase in Scotland, mainly due to an increase in mixed breast and formula feeding.
  • Almost two thirds (66%) of babies born in Scotland in 2020/21 were breastfed for at least some time after their birth.
  • More than half (55%) of babies were being breastfed at 10-14 days of age in 2020/21. This has increased from 44% in 2002/03.
Image caption Overall breastfeeding and formula feeding at first visit, financial years 2002 to 2003, to 2020 to 2021
  • The percentage of babies being breastfed at 6-8 weeks of age has increased from 36% of babies in 2002/03 to 45% in 2020/21.
  • In 2020/21, 21% of toddlers were still being breastfed at 13-15 months of age.
  • There are marked inequalities in breastfeeding, with babies born to mothers in more deprived areas, younger mothers, and those of White Scottish ethnicity least likely to be breastfed.  However, the gap is reducing, as the most substantial increases in breastfeeding at 6-8 weeks over recent years have been seen among babies born to mothers in the most deprived areas. 
  • In 2020/21, 79% of babies had been introduced to solid food at six months of age or older.  Less than 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 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

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 November 2022.

General enquiries

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

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If you have a media enquiry relating to this publication, please contact the Communications and Engagement team.

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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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