But that doesn’t always mean things go to plan.
New figures from Public Health England, released for World Breastfeeding Week (1- 7 August), have now revealed that just 44% of mothers are still breastfeeding their baby between six and eight-weeks-old, and by their first birthday only 0.5% of women have not switched to bottle feed.
This huge drop in breastfeeding rates within the first year of a child’s life is what causes the UK to be at the bottom of worldwide breastfeeding tables, when compared to countries like Norway, which sees more than 70% of women breastfeeding their child at six-months-old.
The reasons why this happens are “complex and multiple”, according to Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) Professor Neena Modi.
But there are some reoccurring themes that highlight very real issues, which should reassure mums that they should not feel guilty if they stop breastfeeding either through choice or because they felt unable to.
After all, as Modi says: “Although it’s natural, it doesn’t always come naturally.”
1. Not having enough support.
The RCPCH has reported that social stigma has now become a major barrier to breastfeeding in the UK, and states more needs to be done to support women.
“Regrettably the attitudes of a large part of society mean breastfeeding is not always encouraged,” said Modi.
“Local support is patchy, advice is not always consistent and often overly dogmatic, support in the workplace not always conducive to continued breastfeeding and perhaps most worryingly breastfeeding in public is still often stigmatised.”
This message is reflected in the findings of a Mumsnet survey that reported 23% of mums stopped breastfeeding because they didn’t have enough help or support to continue with it after the first few weeks.
2. Being unable to get your baby to latch.
Although lack of emotional and physical support might be the final nail in the coffin, the Mumsnet survey found that the most common reason (the response given by almost half of women in the entire survey) was that 41% of mums were unable to get their baby to latch.
The NHS says you’ll know latching is the cause of problems if you are “finding breastfeeding painful or your baby doesn’t seem to be satisfied” after feeding.
3. Feeling like you didn’t know what you were doing.
The second most common reason for 27% of mothers, was that they fundamentally did not feel they knew what they were doing when breastfeeding.
Justine Roberts, Mumsnet CEO, said: “Breastfeeding is a skill, and most mothers need support when they hit a problem, especially given that they are often shattered, sore and sleep-deprived.”
4. Feeling like the whole experience was too difficult.
Even if you and your baby have established a good breastfeeding relationship, you still might not feel like the experience is living up to what you expected of it.
This is damaging because mothers have unrealistic expectations, and it seems 22% of Mumsnet users experienced exactly this. Brown said: “Many of us have lost sight of what new babies are really like.”
5. Experiencing too much physical pain to continue.
Most mums would not argue that breastfeeding was a walk in the park (think leaky nipples, breast pads, cracked nipples, blocked milk ducts and all other manners of boob-related problems).
But for 15% of mums the physical pain became so overwhelming that they were forced to give up, according to the Mumsnet survey.
6. You have made a personal decision to stop.
“Some mothers cannot, or choose not to, breastfeed and this also needs to be respected,” said Modi.
Rather than stigmatising women over their choice to or not to breastfeed, society should instead “get better at removing the multiple barriers which can stand in the way of breastfeeding,” she added.