A Comparison of Breastfeeding Rates by Country

May 14, 2012. Posted in: Trivia

Ever wonder how breastfeeding rates compare from country to country? Following are graphics showing breastfeeding rates in Australia, Canada, Sweden, the UK, and the US from 2004-2009. Click on the graphic to see a larger version.

For each country, I charted the year for which the most recent data was available. I’ll be happy to add graphics for additional countries if you provide me with a link to the breastfeeding data in the comments.

A little explanation of the numbers here…

  • Any Breastmilk” – Baby receives any amount of breastmilk. This could be anything between exclusive breastfeeding and being put to the breast once. Baby may be receiving other foods or liquids.
  • Complementary Breastmilk” – Baby receives both breastmilk and other foods/liquids (which could include formula, juice, solid foods, teas, water, etc.).
  • Exclusive Breastmilk” – Baby receives breastmilk only – no water, tea, formula, juice, cereal, solid foods, etc. Baby can receive drops and syrups (vitamins, minerals and medicines) and still be considered exclusively breastfed. Most babies are ready to start solid foods around 6 months of age, so the extent of exclusive breastfeeding is not often measured past 6 months.
  • Breastmilk includes the mother’s own milk (either at the breast or expressed) and/or another mother’s milk (including banked milk, other donor milk, or wet nursing)

5/26/12 Update: Graphics added for Ireland and Norway.























Breastfeeding: The Numbers – Breastfeeding rates in the United States and worldwide

Infant and young child feeding by country from UNICEF’s ChildInfo.org



Growing Up In Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, Annual Report 2006-07. Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) 2008.

Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy 2010 – 2015.


Statistics Canada: Breastfeeding practises by province and territory.

Breastfeeding Rates and Hospital Breastfeeding Practices in Canada: A National Survey of Women. Chalmers B, et al. Birth. 2009 Jun;36(2):122-32.


The National Infant Feeding Survey 2008, prepared for the Health Service Executive, Ireland.

Norway (data compiled by Magni Onsoien):

Rapport: Spedkost 6 måneder (1998). Helsedirektoratet.

Rapport: Spedkost 12 måneder (1999). Helsedirektoratet.

Rapport: Spedkost 6 måneder (2008). Helsedirektoratet.

Rapport: Småbarnskost 2-åringer (2009). Helsedirektoratet.


Amning av barn födda 2004. Centre for Epidemiology at the National Board of Health and Welfare, Official Statistics of Sweden.

Amning och föräldrars rökvanor – Barn födda 2009. Centre for Epidemiology at the National Board of Health and Welfare, Official Statistics of Sweden.

United Kingdom:

NHS Infant Feeding Survey 2005.

NHS Infant Feeding Survey 2010: Early Results.

United States:

Breastfeeding Among U.S. Children Born 2000—2008, CDC National Immunization Survey.



Magni Onsoien May 15, 2012 at 5:37 am

For Norway The Norwegian Directorate of Health have numbers for full (per WHO definition), partial and no breastfeeding up to 2 years (monthly numbers until 6 months, and at 2-3 month intervals up to 2 years), in at least studies from 1998 and 2006-2008 (there are 3 studies for 0-6m, 6-12m and 12-24m). They are available in Norwegian only, but I can extract the right numbers from the tables if you’re interested. Do you want all available data for each age they have them?

kellymom May 15, 2012 at 10:07 am

 Sure, Magni – I’d appreciate it if you would extract the available data for each age, and I’ll turn it into a graphic. Please include a link to the information source, too. You can use the Contact link at bottom right to email me the info. Thank you!

Elvy Golden-Brown May 15, 2012 at 8:42 am

That was really interesting thanks! 

Elaine Guni May 21, 2012 at 8:18 am

I am Irish and living in Tanzania so decided to do a little comparison using data from above sources and anything else I could find – define breastfeeding as any breastfeeding not necessarily exclusive:
                                       Tanzania    Ireland
bf at birth                            98%        47%
bf at 6 months                    96%        13%
bf at 12 months                  94%          5%
bf at 18 months                  85%         no data
bf at 24 months                  50%         no data

Wow what a contrast !    Of course Tanzania is not perfect – problems include introducing water and other foods much earlier than in guidelines – but bfing is completely normal and “approved” by society in general, including bfing in public.  By bf at 18 months in Tanzania I am a member of a majority while when visiting Ireland I am a complete outlier.  It is, however, the norm to wean when pregnant here in Tanzania.

moirab May 28, 2012 at 7:47 am

If all other data is equal, I think that these charts indicate that the USA, Canada and Australia have better exclusive breastfeeding at 6 months than Sweden and Norway. Pretty interesting stuff!

Magni Onsoien June 16, 2012 at 3:23 pm

At least in Norway there is pretty strong pressure to introduce solids from 4 months.
My pediatric nurse (they do the infant care here, we “don’t have” pediatricians, unless the child is actually ill) said at the 4 month checkup that “now you can give cereals” – without me asking and without my child showing any clear signs of needing it (like grabbing for food, sleeping little at night, nursing often or having low weight gain). And “introducing solids” means a full portion (per Nestlé definition) within a week or so. In Sweden they have a better concept of “tasting sensations”, being defined as 1 ml or so, and they recommend them form 4 months, and “tasting portions” of solids from 6 months.

The guidelines for breastfeeding and solids are pretty similar in Norway, Sweden and USA, I think (exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, breastfeeing for a year or beyond), so it is in deed interesting that the actual following of them differs that much.

A Dutch mom in the USA August 9, 2012 at 2:18 am

In the Netherlands, rates are low in comparison with the rest of Europe, although luckily they are on the rise. Here a link with some stats that you may find useful

Faith March 12, 2013 at 8:14 pm

I’m doing an MA in Early Childhood Studies in the UK right now, and I was told in class that in the UK only 29% of babies are being breastfed at 6 weeks of age. The prof was a registered nurse, and seemed to know her stuff. I was really shocked!

DeMartino June 20, 2013 at 10:44 am

My daughter is 15months old and I still breastfeeding….
She is perfect and very smart baby.
I pretend to stop soon, but is very worth to see her development!
I’m proud of myself.