A lack of breastfeeding peer support is leaving many mums in the UK without vital help when they need it most, say researchers.

According to a UK-wide survey, millions of mothers aren’t able to access crucial support from other women who have experienced the ups and downs of breastfeeding.

The study, published in the journal Maternal and Child Nutrition, has shown that previsions for peer mentors are patchy at best.

Missing out on mum-t0-mum care

Data from the 102 NHS organisations who responded to the survey revealed that breastfeeding peer-supporters are available in only 56% of the NHS regions. A further 11% of the regions fail to offer breastfeeding support groups, like those provided by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). Yorkshire and north-east London were found to have the worst provisions.

breastfeeding peer support

Dr Aimee Grant, lead researcher and social scientist at Cardiff University, said: “Contrary to national guidance, which states that peer support should be available in the UK to aid the initiation and continuation of breastfeeding, we found that coverage both across the UK and within regions was variable.”

The UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. Just one in 200 women are still breastfeeding beyond their child’s first birthday. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that babies should be breastfed alongside complementary foods until at least two years of age.

Lack of support sabotaging breastfeeding goals

To help get things off to a good start, it’s advised that new breastfeeding mothers are guided by trained “peer-supporters” who have either breastfed themselves or come from a similar background to the women they are helping. Both the WHO and the UK watchdog the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence say that this kind of support leads to the best outcomes for breastfeeding mums and babies.

However, Dr Grant said that the UK’s breastfeeding issues go much deeper than a lack of peer-supporters. “There needs to be a shift in societal values and attitudes to breastfeeding,” she said. “[Many mothers] are still made to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed when breastfeeding in public places – this is unacceptable and needs to change.”