A study looking at mothers’ attitudes towards breastfeeding education and promotion has been published by Amy Brown PhD, Department of Public Health, Policy and Social Sciences, Swansea University. She asked 1,130 mothers with a baby aged 0-2 years to complete a questionnaire exploring their attitudes to breastfeeding promotion and support. These mothers had all planned to breastfeed after their baby’s birth. 1
The questionnaire asked what information the women had received during pregnancy or afterwards, if it was the information they needed and if they had found it useful. They were asked to share any positive or negative examples of breastfeeding education and promotion and how it made them feel. The mothers were also asked how they thought breastfeeding should be promoted and what could be done to educate new parents.
This article looks at the key themes which emerged from the questionnaire and how they relate to information for mothers from LLLGB.
Breast is not best – it is the normal way to feed an infant, the biological norm
For some time LLLGB has avoided the use of the term “breast is best” and has focussed on breastfeeding being the normal way to feed a baby. Breastfeeding is the biological norm, uniquely suited for each individual baby, and discoveries are still being made about the way various components of breastmilk work to aid the growth and development of babies. 2
Do not focus solely on the health impact of breastfeeding – discuss benefits outside of health
A key part of LLLGB’s philosophy has always been that the significance of breastfeeding goes beyond its health benefits. We believe that breastfeeding is not just about getting food into a baby, but is a natural way to be close to a baby and help build a relationship. Although we live in a fast paced, technological world, the needs of a newborn baby remain the same. Breastfeeding provides the three things a baby needs; warmth, security and food. It can be empowering for women to know they are providing both the nourishment and comfort their baby needs.
Take it a day at a time – every feed makes a difference
The theme of the UK’s National Breastfeeding Awareness Week 2009 was ‘Breastfeeding: every day makes a difference to your baby’ and emphasised that each day a woman continues to breastfeed is another day her child receives important health and emotional benefits from its mother. LLLGB supports women to take one day at a time in the knowledge that each day can help the relationship with their baby grow and lays down strong foundations for the future.
Tell us the truth – it can be challenging
It can take time to establish breastfeeding, especially if the birth has not been straightforward and the information being offered is confusing. Once at home with a new baby, women don’t always get enough time with healthcare professionals. Women who don’t receive help or support after giving birth are more likely to stop breastfeeding within two weeks. Initial small difficulties which are not addressed can get worse, leading a mother to believe she is unable to breastfeed.
La Leche League GB is an organisation that offers mother-to-mother support. Accredited LLL Leaders have breastfed their own babies and know that when a mother needs a bit of help it can’t wait until tomorrow. They know that breastfeeding is not always easy, and that having the right support and information when needed can make a big difference. LLL Leaders will listen to a mother, they won’t try to tell her what to do, but will offer accurate information so she can make the right choices for herself and her baby.
Target a wider audience
Mothers in the survey felt there were many things which could be done to ensure breastfeeding was better understood, including educating the public as to its importance, making breastfeeding more visible in society, highlighting the legal protection that exists, advertising breastfeeding on TV/billboards/magazines, using celebrities, and educating children and young people.
LLLGB supports breastfeeding being presented as the normal way to feed a baby, ideally beginning with information presented to school children, as part of the curriculum, along with accurate information about the realities of the early days. Women need to receive good information and support before and after birth, including facts about the difference between breastmilk and formula. Greater restrictions on the claims and marketing procedures of formula companies would also help ensure accuracy of information.
We need acceptance of breastfeeding in public spaces, and women returning to paid work need good facilities, breastfeeding breaks and flexible hours.
If women receive support – whether it be from a friend or family member, a health professional, or volunteer breastfeeding supporter – they are likely to breastfeed for longer. LLLGB was the first breastfeeding organisation to offer peer counsellor training. It’s been shown that in nearly every geographical area where Peer Counsellor Programmes were introduced there was an increase in breastfeeding initiation rates, and many areas demonstrated an increase in breastfeeding duration. 3
Social media enable organisations to reach larger numbers of people, providing breastfeeding information and quickly responding to worries and questions. The existence of support networks and increased communication can help to make information available to many, including those who may previously not have felt included.
Conclusions of the study
The ﬁndings of the study are important both for those supporting new mothers to breastfeed and those involved in breastfeeding policy and promotional messages.
La Leche League GB welcomes this insight into the thoughts of new mothers and will continue to offer accurate information and support, taking into account the needs of mothers today. In an ideal society, women would not feel pressured to breastfeed, but would make a positive decision to do so and feel supported in their choice. Although that may not yet be a reality for all women, it is important to aim for it to become so. Knowing that the intensive and sometimes challenging early days do pass, and that babies and mothers learn and grow together, can lead to breastfeeding becoming a very enjoyable and important part of mothering for both
3 Dr Sue Battersby, An Evaluation of La Leche League GB’s Breastfeeding Peer Counsellor Programme, 2007.