Select Committee on Health Memoranda

Memorandum by the Department of Health

Project Organisational Arrangements (Continued)


  1.  The statistics in this paper presents information from Infant Feeding Surveys conducted in 1990, 1995 (conducted by office for National Statistics) and 2000 (conducted by BMRB Social Research). Surveys have been conducted every five years since 1975.

  2.  Between 1995 and 2000 all countries in the UK showed a statistically significant increase in the incidence of breastfeeding, as had been the case also between 1990 and 1995. The rate for England and Wales increased from 64 per cent in 1990 to 68 per cent in 1995 to 70 per cent in 2000. In Scotland, the increases were from 50 per cent to 55 per cent to 63 per cent. In Northern Ireland, the incidence was 36 per cent in 1990, 45 per cent in 1995 and in 2000 rose to 54 per cent.


  3.  The duration of breastfeeding refers to the length of time that mothers who breastfeed initially continue to do so even if they were also giving their baby other foods. There continues to be a strong relationship between duration of breastfeeding and social class with a regular pattern of shorter duration of breastfeeding with each consecutively lower social class group. In 1990, 78 per cent of mothers from social class I who breastfed initially were still doing so at 6 weeks compared with 51 per cent of mothers in social class V. In 1995, 82 per cent of mothers from social class I who breastfed initially were still doing so at 6 weeks compared with 46 per cent of mothers in social class V. Data on the duration of breastfeeding for 2000 infant feeding survey is not yet available.

  4.  Although the changes in breastfeeding rates between 1995 and 2000 are statistically significant in each country, it is important to place the results in the context of changes in the composition of the sample over this period. As the incidence of breastfeeding is associated with mothers' socio-demographic characteristics, so changes in the composition of the sample with respect to these characteristics would be expected to lead to changes in national characteristics even if other factors remained constant. This is discussed below after looking at the associations found in 2000 between breastfeeding and various characteristics of mothers.

Age mother finished full-time education

  5.  As in previous years, mothers who left full-time education at age 16 years were least likely to breastfeed, while those who had continued in education beyond 18 years were most likely to do so. The association between breastfeeding and the mother's educational level was evident in all countries. The pattern across different educational levels in Northern Ireland was typical of the rest of the UK, with rates of 38 per cent for mothers who had left school at 16 and 71 per cent for mothers who remained in education beyond the age of 18.

Social class of the mother's husband or partner

  6.  The social class gradient in breastfeeding, with the highest rates among mothers in the non-manual groups continued to be apparent in 2000. A social class could not be assigned to mothers who were neither married nor living with a partner, nor where incomplete information was given about the partner's occupation. Data for these two groups are combined in the results presented here.

  7.  In all countries, mothers in Social Class I and II had the highest breastfeeding rates. However, the greatest changes since 1995 were in other social groups, with a significant increase in the incidence of breastfeeding in England and Wales in social class V (from 50 per cent in 1995 to 62 per cent in 2000). In Scotland and Northern Ireland, this was the only social group not showing a rise in incidence, all other occupational groups showing an increase.

Changes in breastfeeding incidence

  8.  As already shown, two characteristics of the mothers—educational level and social class—are strongly associated with the incidence of breastfeeding. It is therefore important to consider the composition of the sample over the years of the survey, to ensure that any increase in incidence cannot be attributed solely to changes in the sample, caused for example by mothers having babies in later life and the increase in terminal education age.

  9.  The technique of standardisation has been used to separate out the contribution of compositional change from what might be termed `real' changes over the period since 1990. The rates are standardised for age and educational level.

  10.  In England and Wales, survey estimates of the incidence of breastfeeding were 64 per cent in 1990, 68 per cent in 1995 and 70 per cent in 2000. The standardised rates, assuming that the age and educational level distributions of the sample had remained the same as in 1985 were 62 per cent in all three years.

  11.  In Scotland and Northern Ireland, however, even after standardising for changes in the composition of the sample, incidence of breastfeeding has increased. In Scotland the rates have increased from 48 per cent in 1995 to 54 per cent in 2000 and in Northern Ireland the increase in incidence is from 41 per cent in 1995 (which was up from 36 per cent in 1990) to 47 per cent in 2000.

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