Abstract This paper presents qualitative and quantitative data on experiences of breast feeding in hospital from a national survey of pain relief in labour. Successful breast feeding was found to be significantly associated with satisfaction with medical care, help given with feeding by hospital staff, and the wish to have a subsequent baby in the same hospital. Information and support from staff were frequently mentioned as factors contributing to success. Lack of such help, receiving inaccurate or conflicting advice, and unsolicited and unwanted offers of artificial milk were major sources of discontent. Practical support could be improved by the provision of rooms furnished with nursing chairs where women could breast feed in comfort, benefiting from the companionship and experience of other women and the support of breast feeding counsellors. Efforts should be made to combat the problem of conflicting advice by ensuring that ward staff are conversant with up-to-date knowledge of best practices.