Breastfeeding attitudes in the UK


A study conducted in the UK explored the relationship between a mother’s attitude toward breastfeeding, her personality traits, and her parenting style. After analysing a large sample of mothers, the “high nurturance” parenting style was linked to a mother’s tendency of initiating breastfeeding. Furthermore, the personality did not relate with her breastfeeding attitude, but older mothers tended to feel more positively towards breastfeeding than younger ones. These findings could be relevant for improving future interventions.

Breastfeeding is very important for both maternal and infant health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends to exclusively breastfeed children for the first six months of life, yet only 1% of mothers in the UK do so. To improve breastfeeding rates, it is essential to identify the reasons why women either stop or never start breastfeeding.

Research suggests that the mothers’ attitudes towards breastfeeding may predict the probability of initiation, and these attitudes can be a factor for interventions. It is already known that there is a relationship between parenting styles (linked to levels of control and nurturance) and breastfeeding behaviours. Even maternal personality traits may play a key role in the development of these attitudes.

With these findings in mind, researchers from the UK conducted a cross-sectional survey with a cluster approach, to establish the relationships between attitudes towards breastfeeding, personality traits and parenting styles. A total of 1347 mothers completed an online survey with questions from the Iowa Infant Feeding Attitudes Scale, which contains 50% of positive statements about breastfeeding and 50% of negative statements. Three of the ‘Big Five’ personality traits (extraversion, emotional stability, and conscientiousness) were also measured with the questionnaire. Lastly, the questionnaire explored parenting styles using a conceptualisation of three main parenting styles (permissive, authoritative, and authoritarian) along with a fourth style (uninvolved).

The study identified two main parenting styles of mothers: “high nurturance” (high scoring on authoritative and permissive) and “low nurturance” (low scoring on authoritative and permissive). These two showed significant differences in attitude and behaviour toward breastfeeding. For example, the “high nurturance” style was more conscientious and emotionally stable and felt more positively about breastfeeding, whilst the “low nurturance” type was less likely to initiate breastfeeding. An explanation for this finding is that people who are more conscientious tend to engage in healthier behaviours, breastfeeding being one of them.

The mother’s personality did not have any association with her breastfeeding attitudes, but the study showed that her age played a role. Older mothers, possibly more educated and with a better support system, felt more positively about breastfeeding than younger ones.

Based on the results of this study as well as previous ones, designing interventions focussed on “low nurturance” mothers and younger mothers would be an excellent strategy to improve breastfeeding attitudes and address the low rates of breastfeeding in the UK. Nevertheless, further research is needed.


Paper available at: Elsevier, Midwifery

Full list of authors: Abi M.B. Davis, Charlotte Coleman, Robin S.S. Kramer