Intended for healthcare professionals


Enabling women to breast feed

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 25 September 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1570
  1. Mary Renfrew, professor and director 1,
  2. David Hall, emeritus professor of community paediatrics2
  1. 1Mother and Infant Research Unit, University of York, Department of Health Sciences, York YO10 5DD
  2. 2Institute of General Practice, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S5 7AU
  1. mjr505{at}

    Is a challenge for the health professions

    Breast feeding improves infant and maternal health and cognitive development in both developed and developing countries, and it is the single most important preventive approach for saving children’s lives.1 2 Yet most infants in developed countries are formula fed within the first three months of birth, either exclusively or partially,3 and in many developing countries exclusive breast feeding (no additional fluids, cereal, or other foods) is rare. In the United Kingdom, the women most likely to formula feed are young, white, and from low socioeconomic backgrounds. This poses a major public health and inequalities challenge.

    Despite national and international policy initiatives, neither the duration of breast feeding nor the exclusivity of breast feeding up to six months of age have improved in the UK; 40% of women who start to breast feed discontinue by the time their baby is 6 weeks old, and only 20% of infants are exclusively breast fed at six weeks. The reasons women give for discontinuation are consistent over time and internationally; they think that they …

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