Gurgle, the British pregnancy and parenting publication owned by Mothercare, shared a box-out statistic in the April 2018 issue of the magazine stating: “Less than 1% of UK mothers are still breastfeeding at the recommended 12 months. Hands up who’s unduly alarmed by this. Nope, us neither.”
Facebook group Lactivist, which shares posts to normalise breastfeeding, posted a photo of the statistic in the magazine and wrote that they were “saddened” to bring it to their attention.
“Clearly your staff don’t care about the product they are producing,” the Facebook status read on 5 March. “This statistic should be something you are greatly concerned about. Not something to brush off.”
It is thought that the statistic comes from data released in January 2016, published in the Lancet, that showed that only one in 200 women - or 0.5% - was still doing any degree of breastfeeding after a year. However there was confusion over the words “recommended 12 months”, as the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended exclusive breastfeeding for six months.
The spokesperson for Lactivist continued: “What you should be doing as such an influential magazine is making a point that too many mothers intend on breastfeeding their baby and are then given no support to do so the moment anything worries them or doesn’t work and then stop breastfeeding.
“You should be researching normal baby behaviour and broadcasting it to your readers and your reporters should be referring to actual scientific evidence to do so and then use their skills to put it in to your shiny magazine to appeal to your readers.”
When Gurgle shared on Facebook the cover of their new magazine, many people who had read it picked up on the breastfeeding statistic. “The fact that UK breast feeding rates are amongst the lowest in the world is a public health issue,” wrote one reader. “How are your flippant remarks supportive of breastfeeding mothers or encouraging to mothers considering breastfeeding?” Another commented: “This is really very sad! How can you so flippantly dismiss breastfeeding? It’s incredibly irresponsible. You’ve got a voice so why don’t you use it to support women?”
The magazine issued an apology to its readers explaining: “Gurgle has, and always will, fully support breastfeeding so we were shocked, but not entirely surprised by the 1% stat.
“Encouraging mums to breastfeed their babies for as long as they are able to is part of Gurgle’s DNA but we also accept that some mums just don’t reach that 12 month marker. If that didn’t come across in the positive spirit that it was intended then please accept our apologies for any offence caused as that was not our intention.”
The editor, Scarlett Brady, later commented that she and the publication were “heartbroken” to have disappointed their readers, adding: “It was never the intention to be unsupportive of breastfeeding, but on reflection, it is clear the the comment is clumsy and inadvertently offensive and for that I sincerely apologise.”
Commenting on the magazine, Dr Amy Brown, associate professor of Child Public Health Swansea Uni and author of Breastfeeding Uncovered told HuffPost UK: “Research has shown that the UK has the lowest levels of breastfeeding in the entire world by 12 months with estimates as low as 0.5% in some studies. Anyone who thinks that doesn’t matter when we know breastfeeding is an important way to keep mothers and babies healthy is a fool.
“They’re basically saying they don’t care if more babies get sick and more women get breast cancer. They’re also saying they don’t care about women’s mental health. Many, many women stop breastfeeding before they are ready due in part to a society that doesn’t understand and support breastfeeding - thinking women are strange if they breastfeed past the early weeks or doing something wrong if they breastfeed in public. This can make women feel guilty and ashamed if they stop, but also embarrassed and ashamed if they carry on. However given the benefits, protecting, supporting and encouraging breastfeeding past infancy should be a major public health initiative rather than something that doesn’t matter.”
In August 2017, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said the breastfeeding rates in the UK were low due to social stigma. “Regrettably the attitudes of a large part of society mean breastfeeding is not always encouraged,” said RCPCH president, Professor Neena Modi at the time. “It is no wonder that for many mothers, there are too many barriers.”
The new RCPCH guidance advised:
Mothers should be encouraged and supported to breastfeed exclusively for up to six months.
Solid food should not be introduced before four months.
Solid food should be introduced from six months, ideally alongside breastfeeding to ensure the infant has adequate nutrition.
Mothers should be supported to continue breastfeeding for as long as they wish.
The RCPCH’s advice and recommendations marked the start of an ongoing campaign to improve breastfeeding in the UK, which it hopes to deliver in partnerships with other organisations.