About this release
This annual release from Public Health Scotland (PHS) provides an update of infant feeding statistics including data for children eligible for child health reviews in the financial year 2021/22.
Encouraging and supporting breastfeeding is an important public health activity. There is strong evidence that breastfeeding protects the health of children and mothers. The information is collected at Health Visitor reviews of children at around 10-14 days (First Visit), 6-8 weeks, and 13-15 months of age.
- Almost two thirds (65%) of babies born in Scotland in 2021/22 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 2021/22. This has increased from 44% in 2002/03, mainly due to an increase in mixed breast and formula feeding.
Current feeding at Health Visitor First Visit, 2002/03 to 2021/22
- In 2021/22, 46% of babies were still being breastfed by the time of their 6-8 week review, and 28% had always been exclusively breastfed since birth.
- In 2021/22, 22% of toddlers were still being breastfed at 13-15 months of age.
- In 2021/22, 81% 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.
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.
Open data from this publication is available from the Scottish Health and Social Care Open Data platform.
The next release of this publication will be November 2023.
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