Using data to promote, protect and support breastfeeding in Skåne, Sweden

on 05 August 2021

As part of World Breastfeeding Week 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe has highlighted the use of data gathering in Sweden to determine why breastfeeding is declining in the country.

In Sweden, two surveys were conducted in the region of Skåne in 2020 which found that a proportion of the local population were unaware of the benefits of breastfeeding, and that breastfeeding services needed more coordination.

One survey was aimed to evaluate the current status of breastfeeding in health facilities, and the second survey aimed to explore breastfeeding knowledge and attitudes among the local population.

In response to the survey findings, the Regional Council of the Swedish region Skåne commissioned the Center of Excellence Women’s Health and Child Health Services to develop a strategy to promote, protect and support breastfeeding to curb the decline.

Technical Officer for Nutrition at the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of noncommunicable Diseases (NCD office), Clare Farrand, said: “Breastfeeding is the best option for infant feeding. It delivers emotional, nutritional and health benefits, such as protection against noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease and cancer to both children and mothers. It also forms part of a sustainable food system.”

Sweden’s breastfeeding initiation and duration are high in the WHO European Region at 96%. However, only 11% of women met WHO’s recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for six months.

The surveys found that:

  • 99% of respondents agree that breastfeeding in health facilities is natural, and three in 10 were aware that it reduces the risk of breast cancer
  • In Skåne there is no service that offers support for breastfeeding, with health professionals who responded to the survey citing that written breastfeeding and infant feeding policies were insufficient
  • Counselling on breastfeeding is categorised as low priority in newborn care
  • 91% of health care professionals said they had been contacted by representatives from the baby food industry in the last year. 80% were given free formula samples to distribute to families in their care
  • 32% of respondents completed further training in breastfeeding counselling, with the majority considering themselves in need of more training in this area.

General practitioner from the Center of Excellence Women’s Health, Regional Council of Skåne, Anna Kjellbom, said: “To promote breastfeeding, raising awareness about the health benefits of breastfeeding among the population should be a public health priority. Educating both healthcare workers and parents would encourage an overall positive attitude towards breastfeeding and have far-reaching benefits for families and the community.”

Source: WHO Regional Office for Europe