Experiences of breastfeeding during COVID‐19: Lessons for future practical and emotional support

Published: September 23, 2020

Publication: Maternal & Child Nutrition

Authors: Amy Brown and Natalie Shenker

Read the original paper here.


  • Study looks at the experiences of breastfeeding mothers in the UK during COVID-19 lockdowns.
  • The study wanted to especially understand how the pandemic impacted mothers’ decisions and attitudes on infant feeding.
  • Of the mothers they surveyed, they found: 58.6% were breastfeeding exclusively, 22.5% practiced breastfeeding and formula feeding, and 18.9% stopped.
  • The most common reason people stopped breastfeeding was because they didn’t have enough access to professional support.
  • Of the participants who stopped breastfeeding just 4.7% stated they stopped when planned.
  • Interestingly, participants who stopped breastfeeding were more likely to be told by a health professional that breastfeeding was not safe, despite WHO’s guidelines on breastfeeding during COVID-19.
  • Mothers who described the experience as more positive (42%) were more privileged in their living circumstances – Black and minority ethnic mothers (BAME) were less likely to describe the experience as positive and were much less likely to report having enough practical support to breastfeed.
  • There was a strong relationship between a positive experience and university‐level maternal education, high‐speed Wi‐Fi access, living in a house/ground floor flat, having a private garden and living in an area where it was easy to get out for walks/fresh air.
  • Ultimately, the survey outcomes further confirm that misinformation, separation at birth, and lack of access to physical and early professional support greatly impact mothers’ infant feeding decisions.
  • Some of the anecdotal information also suggests that more time at home with baby gave some mothers a better chance of starting breastfeeding early and sustaining it. This is important to understand for building better paid leave policies and programs to encourage breastfeeding.
  • The paper recommends further studies to better understand how to properly and equitably provide breastfeeding support during a global pandemic.

Key Quotes:

“Newborn lost a lot of weight due to tongue tie and bad latch. Breast feeding class cancelled due to COVID. Husband not permitted in hospital when breast feeding advice was given and I was recovering from giving birth so struggled to take in information. When midwife identified low weight, we were put on a feeding plan with formula and I was advised I may not be able to breast feed. I expressed a lot to ensure I could build up my supply and had very sore nipples. After contacting 111 we thought I had thrush and I was given cream. Turns out I had bad positioning which was identified via video call two weeks post birth. Face‐to‐face support e.g. somebody physically helping you to position and latch your baby is far more effective than a zoom video call on a mobile device.”

“Many participants talked about missing meeting other breastfeeding mothers and socialising in baby groups or out with friends. Sometimes, this was about asking others questions or seeking reassurance, but often, it was just about connection and feelings of community. Many talked about the isolation they felt, which was impacting their well‐being and mental health.”

“I was Lucky to have a Whatsapp group of breastfeeding mothers—that I had met in a baby group pre lockdown. If I had a younger baby and did not have this I would have struggled.”

Useful Facts:

  • Mothers from Black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds were significantly more likely than White women to attribute a lack of face‐to‐face support to breastfeeding cessation.
  • Of the 103 mothers who had a baby in neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), 19.4% were told they could not visit their baby and at the time of the survey completion a majority of these women were no longer breastfeeding.
  • Those who stopped breastfeeding were more likely to associate their breastfeeding experience during lockdown as negative due to a perceived lack of social and emotional support.
  • Participants who felt their experience was positive identified having more time focus, fewer visitor, more privacy, increased responsive feeding, greater partner support, and a delayed return to work as reasons.
  • Of the participants who felt their breastfeeding experiences were a negative, one noted a lack of face-to-face support, lack of social support, stress of caring for other children, intense focus on breastfeeding, and no experience of feeding in public and work as concerns.