Widespread misconception that the benefits of breastfeeding only relate to poor countries

UK ‘world’s worst’ at breastfeeding

Global distribution of breastfeeding at 12 months Data are from 153 countries between 1995 and 2013. Rates of breastfeeding in the UK are the lowest in the world.


Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect, the lancet, Volume 387, No. 10017, p475–490, 30 January 2016.

The importance of breastfeeding in low-income and middle-income countries is well recognised, but less consensus exists about its importance in high-income countries.

In the UK, 81% of mothers had tried breastfeeding at some point, but only 34% were breastfeeding at six months and 0.5% at 12 months.

In low-income and middle-income countries, only 37% of children younger than 6 months of age are exclusively breastfed. With few exceptions, breastfeeding duration is shorter in high-income countries than in those that are resource-poor.

Our meta-analyses indicate protection against child infections and malocclusion, increases in intelligence, and probable reductions in overweight and diabetes. We did not find associations with allergic disorders such as asthma or with blood pressure or cholesterol, and we noted an increase in tooth decay with longer periods of breastfeeding. For nursing women, breastfeeding gave protection against breast cancer and it improved birth spacing, and it might also protect against ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes.

The scaling up of breastfeeding to a near universal level could prevent 823 000 annual deaths in children younger than 5 years and 20 000 annual deaths from breast cancer. Recent epidemiological and biological findings from during the past decade expand on the known benefits of breastfeeding for women and children, whether they are rich or poor.

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