Press release: Minority ethnic babies have better nutritional start in life

12 October 2005

Babies in minority ethnic groups are more likely to be breastfed and less likely to have mothers who smoke than white UK babies, according to new findings from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of Education…

Babies in minority ethnic groups are more likely to be breastfed and less likely to have mothers who smoke than white UK babies, according to new findings from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of Education.

Children of the 21st Century: From birth to nine months is based on the first findings from the Millennium Cohort Study, which is tracking almost 19,000 babies born in 2000 and 2001 in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The first survey took place when the babies were between 9 and 10 months old. The study includes a substantial number of babies from minority ethnic families, many of whom were living in some of England’s poorest urban areas.

Research contributed by the Institute of Child Health examined several aspects of child health, including being breastfed for at least one month and having a non-smoking mother.

The study found that babies born to black or Asian mothers were more likely to be breastfed and have a non-smoking mother. White mothers were less likely to breastfeed and more likely to smoke when pregnant than their black or Asian counterparts. Children whose mothers smoke when pregnant are on average lighter at birth, and are more likely to develop wheezing and asthma.

Heather Joshi, co-editor of the book, says: “Although babies born to minority ethnic mothers were more likely to come from low income families and live in poor areas, they were also more likely to be breast-fed and less likely to be exposed to cigarette smoke. There is good evidence that children’s health benefits from being breastfed. Children whose parents smoke risk respiratory illness, slower growth and slower development.”

Co-editor Shirley Dex said: “These findings suggest that this generation of minority ethnic babies are getting off to an excellent nutritional start. It is important to encourage minority ethnic mothers’ good practice in ensuring the health of their children.”

However, weight at birth and at 9-10 months, another important indicator of child health, showed a different pattern: babies from all Asian groups were lightest at birth and those of white mothers were heaviest. Babies born to mothers of Pakistani origin were on average 235g lighter at birth than their white counterparts, and remained lighter at 9-10 months, whether their mothers smoked or not.

Other findings from the book include:

  • 85% of the babies were born into families where both parents lived together. In 93% of these, the baby’s father was present at the birth, but he was also present in nearly half of families where the parents were not living together.
  • 22% of babies were delivered by caesarean section, twice as many as in 1970.
  • More than one-third of the first-time mothers were over 30, compared to only 8% of first-time mothers in 1946.
  • Lone motherhood was most common among young women. Of the 5% of mothers who were teenagers at the time of the survey, half were not living with the baby’s father. This was also the case for about a third of mothers aged between 20 and 24, but for fewer than 10% of mothers over 30.
  • Only 33% of lone mothers said that they received maintenance payments from non-resident fathers.
  • Babies born to younger mothers, lone mothers and those with fewer educational qualifications were less likely to be breastfed at one month, irrespective of their ethnic group.
  • Most babies were immunised, but over 5% were not completely covered by all of the immunisations recommended for their age. Immunising a baby was more common in Scotland and Northern Ireland than in England and Wales.
  • Compared to earlier generations, more of the mothers were in paid work, but there were contrasts among ethnic groups. Overall, nearly half the mothers had a paid job when their child was aged between 9 and 10 months but the jobs were mostly part-time. In contrast, as many as half of the black mothers who worked had full-time jobs. Only around one in ten of Pakistani or Bangladeshi mothers had jobs at all.
  • The most common form of childcare for employed mothers was grandparents (45%), followed by partners (31%).


For further information, or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Heather Joshi, Centre for Longitudinal Studies, 020 7612 6874, 07884 310264,
Shirley Dex, Centre for Longitudinal Studies, 020 7612 6900,
Jessica Henniker-Major, Centre for Longitudinal Studies, 020 7612 6861,
Helen Green, Institute of Education, 020 7612 6459, 07734 540870,
Stephen Cox, Institute of Child Health, 020 7829 8671,

Notes for editors:

Children of the 21st Century: From birth to nine months is published by The Policy Press on 12 October. Order online at or from Marston Book Services on +44 (0)1235 465500 or email: Paperback: £24.99; hardback: £55.00. Sample chapters are available from their website (Chapter 1: Introduction and Chapter 5: Children’s health).

Contributors to the book include: Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Institute of Education; City University; Institute of Child Health, University College London; Institute of Psychiatry, University of London; National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford; University College London; University of York.

The Millennium Cohort Study is one of three cohort studies administered by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the Institute of Education. The study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and a consortium of government departments, led by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Heather Joshi OBE, FBA is Professor of Economic and Developmental Demography and director of the Centre for Longitudinal Studies. Shirley Dex is Professor of Longitudinal Social Research in Education and head of the Bedford Group for Lifecourse and Statistical Studies.

The Institute of Education is a college of the University of London, specialising in teaching, research and consultancy in education and related areas of social science and professional practice.

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