Women who decide not to breastfeed their child must be respected for their choice, midwives are being told.
Updated advice from the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) stresses that new mothers should be given appropriate support if they make an informed decision to bottle-feed.
The guidance still says babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, in line with advice from the World Health Organization (WHO).
But the RCM has acknowledged that some mothers struggle to start or carry on breastfeeding, and says the decision is a woman’s right.
Its chief executive, Gill Walton, said: “Evidence clearly shows that breastfeeding in line with WHO guidance brings optimum benefits for the health of both mother and baby. However, the reality is that often some women for a variety of reasons struggle to start or sustain breastfeeding.
“The RCM believes that women should be at the centre of their own care and as with other areas of maternity care, midwives and maternity support workers should promote informed choice.
“If, after being given appropriate information, advice and support on breastfeeding, a woman chooses not to do so, or to give formula as well as breastfeeding, her choice must be respected.”
The National Childbirth Trust has previously warned that women can face judgment or feel guilty about the decisions they make when it comes to feeding their baby.
But the RCM said it recognised that “some women cannot or do not wish to breastfeed”.
“They must be given all the advice and support they need on safe preparation of bottles and responsive feeding to develop a close and loving bond with their baby,” Walton added.
“We know that every woman wants the best for her baby and we want to be able to empower our members to support women to be the best they can be and enable them to make decisions that are right for themselves and their babies.”
The organisation also said that those who chose to breastfeed needed more support and should not feel “guilty or embarrassed” about breastfeeding in public.
Research has found breastfeeding can have long-term health advantages, with children less likely to develop diabetes or become obese later in life.
The UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. A recent report found just over a third (34%) of babies in Britain were receiving any breast milk at six months, compared with 62.5% in Sweden.