There is still more work to do to encourage women in Scotland to improve their health before they become pregnant, a major report on maternal and infant nutrition has indicated.
It suggested more needed to be done to ensure women wanting to get pregnant were a healthy weight, stopped smoking, reduced alcohol consumption and took folic acid supplements.
“This survey found that there has been welcome progress in encouraging breastfeeding in Scotland”
In contrast, there has been progress in many areas, including a longer duration of breastfeeding and later introduction of solid foods, as well as an increased uptake of vitamins during pregnancy.
The 2017 Scottish Maternal and Infant Nutrition Survey found 43% of mothers were continuing to breastfeed up to six months after birth, compared to 32% in 2010.
Survey respondents most frequently indicated that they had received help or information on breastfeeding from midwives and maternity staff, or from health visitors – 91% and 74%, respectively.
The survey also found many infants were being introduced to complementary foods later – 46% by at least six months – in a trend that has continued since 2010 and which is helping prevent obesity.
In addition, 86% of the 8,000 survey respondents indicated that they were taking a vitamin or mineral supplement during pregnancy.
However, 54% of respondents reported that they did not stop drinking alcohol before becoming pregnant, although 25% said they had “cut down” the amount they were drinking.
“There is still work to do to support women in Scotland to improve their health before they become pregnant”
Also, only 47% of women who provided their body mass index (BMI) – as recorded at their maternity booking visit – were classed as having a “healthy” weight.
In contrast, 28% were classed as “overweight”, 22% as “obese” and 3% as “underweight”.
Just over half of respondents reported taking folic acid prior to becoming pregnant and an additional third reported starting to take folic acid as soon as they knew they were pregnant.
Meanwhile, 63% of respondents said they had not received any information about diet, vitamin supplements, smoking or drinking alcohol before becoming pregnant.
Aileen Campbell, Scotland’s public health minister, said: “This survey, the only one of its kind to be carried out anywhere in the UK since 2010, found that there has been welcome progress in encouraging breastfeeding in Scotland.
“The survey also provides insights into where we can do more, particularly in the early days and weeks after birth,” she said. “It is my aim to ensure our work to increase support in this area for new mothers will continue.”
She added: “The findings of the survey will also be used to inform the development of our healthy weight strategy for Scotland, with support and interventions aimed at improving the diet and health of the nation from birth through to adulthood.”
Scottish government programmes to support breastfeeding include backing the implementation of Unicef’s UK Baby Friendly Initiative standards, funding peer volunteer breastfeeding support, the National Breastfeeding Helpline and launching the feedgood.scot website.
The Royal College of Midwives noted that progress had been made but there was work still to be done on improving maternal and infant nutrition in Scotland.
Mary Ross-Davie, the RCM’s director for Scotland, said: “The report shows that there is still work to do to support women in Scotland to improve their health before they become pregnant.
“This includes helping to ensure that women are aware of the benefits of going into pregnancy in the best possible health: through having a healthy weight, stopping smoking, reducing alcohol consumption and taking folic acid supplements,” she said.
“These messages need to start at home and in schools so that young women are aware of the benefits of maximising their own health for the benefit of their future children as well as for themselves,” said Ms Ross-Davie.
“It also highlights the need for more support for women before they become pregnant, which means more investment in pre-conception care,” she added.
But she noted that she was “encouraged” to see that the numbers of women wishing to breastfeed and successfully breastfeeding had continued to increase in Scotland.
“The report highlights that the majority of women will experience some bumps in the road when they breastfeed,” she said. “We are really encouraged to see that the great majority of these women who face challenges (89%) feel that they got the help and support they needed.
“This is testament to the great work that midwives, maternity support workers and peer supporters do across Scotland every day to support women to successfully breastfeed,” she added.