Published: 25 October 2016
Nutrition plays a crucial role in the early months and years of life and is important in achieving optimal health. As outlined in Improving Maternal and Infant Nutrition: A Framework for Action, "the Scottish Government has adopted as policy World Health Organisation guidance recommending exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant's life. It is recommended breastfeeding should continue beyond six months, alongside the introduction of appropriate solid foods, for up to two years of age or as long as the mother chooses" .
Encouraging and supporting breastfeeding is recognised as an important public health activity. There is good evidence demonstrating the short and long term health benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and infants. Breastfed infants are likely to have a reduced risk of infection, particularly those affecting the ear, respiratory tract and gastro-intestinal tract. This protective effect is particularly marked in low birth weight infants. Other benefits include a reduced risk of childhood obesity and there may be an association with improved cognitive development. Women who breastfeed have lower risks of breast cancer, epithelial ovarian cancer and hip fracture later in life.
The gradual introduction of appropriate solid foods to an infant's diet (commonly referred to as 'weaning') is also very important. Scottish Government policy, based on World Health Organisation guidance, is to recommend the introduction of appropriate solid foods at around the age of six months.
Breastfeeding rates in Scotland are monitored and published annually. Statistics are presented by NHS Board of Residence, Local Authority, and also by maternal age, deprivation and smoking status. The information is derived from data collected at routine child health reviews at around 10 days and 6-8 weeks of age, and recorded on the child health pre-school system (CHSP Pre-School). Information on infant feeding practice including the duration of breastfeeding and the introduction of solid foods is available in the UK wide Infant Feeding Survey, which was carried out every five years between 1975 and 2010. The survey is based on a sample of mothers across the UK and includes results shown separately for Scotland. This UK wide survey has now been discontinued and the Scottish Government is considering options for instigating a survey of infant feeding in Scotland specifically.