Health: Support call to help mums to breastfeed

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The benefits of breastfeeding are well known but a new study shows support is needed. Katie Baldwin reports.

it’s the way to give babies the best start in life – but still mums come up against barriers to breastfeeding.

That’s the conclusion reached by researchers from Leeds Trinity University, who talked to a group of mothers for their study looking at why they chose to exclusively breastfeed and how they get over any difficulties.

The World Health Organisation recommends that babies should be fed only breast milk for the first six months of their life, because it contains all the nutrients they need.

Breastfeeding also boosts immunity, while in the long term it gives babies a 34 per cent protection against the risk of type 2 diabetes and a 24 per cent reduction in the risk of being overweight or obese.

But despite these major benefits, it’s clear that there are still widely differing views about breastfeeding.

Even recently, regular stories appear in the media about mums asked to stop breastfeeding in cafes or shops, often sparking a protest by other mothers.

If stars release a photo of them breastfeeding, as Alanis Morisette did to mark the start of World Breastfeeding Week yesterday, it is unusual enough to be reported by newspapers.

So it’s no surprise that while eight in 10 UK mothers start breastfeeding, only one in 100 maintains it for the recommended six months.

Dr Tanefa Apekey, who was on the Leeds Trinity research team, said promotion could play a part: “There are many public health campaigns on smoking cessation, fruit and vegetables consumption and reduction in obesity with the view of improving public health but very little is being done to promote breastfeeding. Also, mothers are frequently exposed to many television ads on infant formula but nothing on the promotion of the benefits of breastfeeding.

“In addition to the lack of promotion, various reasons have been cited as to why mums have difficulty sticking to breastfeeding but very little is known about why others persevere.”

In the pilot study, Dr Apekey, Grace Ricotti and Dr Lisa Gatenby from the Department of Sport, Health and Nutrition talked to seven breastfeeding mums about their views.

All intended to breastfeed when their babies were born, with many saying that feeding previous children, the health benefits for the baby or influence from their family.

However they did experience problems, including pain, discomfort and a lack of understanding from some partners or relatives.

The mums did say that “embarrassment when breastfeeding in public” was one of the major challenges they faced, but they overcame this as they grew in confidence.

One said: “The first few weeks I covered myself up, but now I just do it as it is. At the end of the day, he needs feeding.”

Support from other mums, such as at breastfeeding support groups, was the main thing which helped them with these problems, while help from their partners also made it easier. And determination not to quit was one of the main reasons the mums stuck with breastfeeding.

Researcher Grace Ricotti said the study showed that all mothers, especially new mums and teenagers, needed support from families, partners and the general public.

“We also need more platforms for a social network of mothers and their families – local authorities could help by creating breastfeeding support groups,” she added.

Researchers now plan to develop a larger study involving mothers from different ethnic groups to identify more ways to support mothers to exclusively breastfeed for six months.

Dr Apekey added: “As demonstrated in the study, support from dads, partners and family members will provide a better experience for the mother resulting in longer period of breastfeeding and hence health benefits for both mum and baby. Helping with baby care, providing words of encouragements, attending breastfeeding support group sessions with mothers are just some of the many practical ways to support breastfeeding mums.

“Life as a new mum is both exciting and challenging and most people tend to have questions and concerns.

“There are organisations and groups that can help.”

WHERE TO FIND HELP

To find Breastfeeding Support Groups or centres, call 0300 100 0210 or visit www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/support-centres.html#map.

More on breastfeeding is available on the NHS choices website at www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/breastfeeding-help-support.aspx#close.

Details of World Breastfeeding Week are available by logging on to http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org.