Women need more support to breastfeed

Breastfeeding rates in regional communities are increasing, but a major study by La Trobe University researchers indicates the need for greater support for at-risk women to initiate breastfeeding.

The study, published in BMJ Open, draws on data collected from almost 7,500 women who birthed at a large regional Victorian hospital between 2010 and 2017.

The study identified a number of risk factors in new mothers that contribute to lower rates of breastfeeding, including a higher Body Mass Index (BMI), teenage motherhood, smoking and being from a disadvantaged background.

Findings included:

  • Breastfeeding initiation rates rose six per cent over eight years (82 per cent of women in 2010 compared to 87 per cent in 2017).
  • 78.9 per cent of obese and morbidly obese women initiated breastfeeding, compared to 87.1 per cent of non-obese women.
  • Women who were obese and morbidly obese were 66 per cent less likely to initiate breastfeeding than other women.
  • Significantly lower proportions of breastfeeding initiation were observed in lower socio-economic status (SES) groups.

La Trobe Associate Professor Melanie Bish said while all women can benefit from caring, targeted breastfeeding support after giving birth, those falling into the risk categories have the most to gain.

“Our study shows that whether or not a woman initiates breastfeeding can be based on a range of factors – both physiological and social – from how she feels about her body, to what her friendship group says,” Associate Professor Bish said.

“If health professionals like GPs, midwives and obstetricians are aware of these factors, they can develop strong, trusting relationships with women during pregnancy, and promote the benefits of initiating breastfeeding.

“This targeted support could have huge long-term benefits for both mothers and babies,” Associate Professor Bish said.

Breastfeeding during the first month of life has many physical and mental health benefits, including reducing neonatal mortality and enhancing mother-child bonding.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that infants be breastfed exclusively until six months of age to achieve optimal growth, development and health, with breastfeeding continuing as part of the infant’s diet up to two years of age or beyond.

Media contact: Kate O'Connor - k.o'connor@latrobe.edu, 0436 189 629