Mothers call for society to take action to raise breastfeeding rates

New research from Swansea University has found that mothers want society to be supportive of their choice to breastfeed.

The study published in Breastfeeding Medicine was led by Dr Amy Brown in the Department of Public Health, Policy and Social Sciences and explored the experiences of over 1100 new mothers who had recently breastfed towards the breastfeeding education and promotion they received. With the UK recently shown to have the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world at 12 months, the study was fuelled by the belief that we need a new, fuller approach to supporting breastfeeding mothers.

‌Overall the results found that nearly all mothers felt it was important to promote breastfeeding but less than one in six were happy with the way it was done. Many were left feeling unsupported and felt more had to be done to practically help mothers to breastfeed if the government was going to promote breastfeeding.

Dr Amy Brown, Associate Professor and Programme Director for the MSc Child Public Health who led the study said: “I was amazed by the enthusiasm for this study, with over 1100 mothers completing the survey in only a few days. It was clear that mothers wanted change and I believe we must listen to them, after all they are the experts when it comes to knowing what does and does not help them.

Newborn baby“There were a number of messages that jumped out from the study. Firstly, many mums felt unprepared to breastfeed. They felt that they were told that breastfeeding was best for them and their baby, but given very little information about what it was really like to breastfeed. Coupled with a lack of support after the birth, they felt that they had been set up to fail. It is vital that if we want more mothers to breastfeed then we need to invest in properly supporting them to do so: both in terms of preparation and practical support after the birth.”

Dr Brown, added: “However, what seemed especially important was that mums called for education about breastfeeding to extend beyond them. They felt that although they wanted to breastfed they received a lot of misinformation or criticism from those around them or even strangers in public. They wanted the public to be more widely informed about why breastfeeding was important and how it could be supported. This makes sense for everyone. Even if the public feels it is irrelevant to their lives whether babies are breastfed or not, if we raised breastfeeding rates only a little, we could save many millions of pounds per year. Now that should matter to everyone.

“A recent special issue in the prestigious Lancet journal highlighted the societal impact of increasing breastfeeding rates. A quote from the World Health Organisation emphasised that ‘The success or failure of breastfeeding should not be seen solely as the responsibility of the woman. Her ability to breastfeed is very much shaped by the support and the environment in which she lives. There is a broader responsibility of governments and society to support women through policies and programmes in the community.’ We need to be listening to this if we want to see breastfeeding rates rise and as a consequence less pressure on health services.”

The research titled ‘What do women really want? Lessons for breastfeeding education and promotion’ is now published in Breastfeeding Medicine: