NHS: Breastfeeding initiation

How can we empower young mums from disadvantaged communities across the UK to breastfeed their babies?

Our team was commissioned to develop approaches to increase breastfeeding initiation amongst 18–24-year-old women living in disadvantaged communities. Initially commissioned by a partnership of 3 PCTs, this programme has since been adopted in 17 other localities.

Social norms

In-depth research with audience groups revealed that the main barriers preventing young women from breastfeeding were related to adverse community norms, not a lack of knowledge in relation to health benefits, as previously assumed. Negative attitudes from parents, peers, partners and the wider public perpetuated a culture of bottle-feeding and created a sense that breastfeeding is ‘not what we do’.

Community activation

Using a high-profile, through-the-line communications campaign featuring real, breastfeeding mothers from our priority communities, we re-branded breastfeeding as an expression of pride, independence and strength. Through online social networks and grass-roots community and peer groups it was possible to create a self-sustaining support community around this new understanding of breastfeeding. A new motivation, combined with the right support, gave young mothers the confidence to breastfeed in the face of adverse community norms.


  • 13% increase in initiation over first 6 months and 9% increase sustained over 12 months against a 2% target (Central Lancashire)
  • Increased efficiencies and cohesion in delivery of breastfeeding services
  • Mobilisation of internal staff through increased morale and aspiration
  • Recognition as international best practice and receipt of a wide range of industry awards

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