Mothers refusing to breastfeed because six-month target is too high and puts many off, say experts

Unhelpful target: The number of women who breastfeed will not increase unless the targets are lowered, say experts

Unhelpful target: The number of women who breastfeed will not increase unless the targets are lowered, say experts

Mothers told to breast feed for the first six months are being given unhelpful and unrealistic advice, a new report claim.

According to medical experts, breastfeeding for six months has considerable health benefits for both mothers and babies – with many governments around the world supporting the decision.

However, researchers have found many women think that this ideal – set by the World Health Organisation – is not an achievable goal and new, realistic targets have to be set to boost breastfeeding numbers in the UK.

They conducted face-to-face interviews with 36 women, with all but one planning to breastfeed – plus additional tests on 26 partners, eight mothers, one sister and two healthcare professionals.

The studies were carried out at four week intervals to find out participants’ views on breastfeeding from the last month of pregnancy until six months after the birth, and what impact this had on the wider family.

Researchers wanted to see if women received the support they required during the six months from partners, family and medical professionals, as well as what they experienced.

Results – published in the journal BMJ Open – showed a general feeling of frustration among partners and mothers, with some saying antenatal information on breastfeeding did not prepare them for the reality.

One woman said a ‘reality check would be good’, as healthcare professionals make it sound ‘so easy’ – while another said she felt ‘guilty’ as she did not experience the ‘lovely bonding experience’ experts make breastfeeding out to be.

Some claimed they felt ‘pressured’ into breastfeeding, as they believe it is the right thing to do, but found the advice on how to approach it unhelpful.

Another woman said: ‘It all seems to be ‘don’t ever do anything that would interfere with breastfeeding,’ it’s all got to be very purist, which is fine, but it just doesn’t fit in with the rest of your life….I think people just give up because it’s too difficult.’

Results also revealed women wanted a greater focus from medics on emotional issues so partners can get involved too – instead of purely focusing on the technicalities of breastfeeding.

The authors – from the University of Aberdeen – said: ‘Pivotal points when babies change their crying, feeding, or sleep patterns are common during the first six months, and parents believed that changing the mode of feeding was one of the few ways in which they could restore the wellbeing of their child, themselves, and other family members.’

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Struggle: Many mothers find the routine of having to stop and breastfeed their babies for months on end hard to cope with and give up earlier. But if targets were reduced, more might persist, say researchers

They make several recommendations for what can be done to change peoples’ views on breastfeeding – including ‘realistic, interactive discussions with appropriately skilled healthcare providers and peers before and after birth’, and a proactive rather than reactive approach.

The researchers also suggest healthcare professionals ditch the formal ‘checklist approach’, acknowledging there are many ways to feed a baby safely and these should all be discussed with prospective parents.

The authors added: ‘Almost two decades ago, there was a debate around idealism in health promotion which questioned the transformation of health into political value.

‘We would argue that it is time to revisit this debate for infant feeding, if we are to design and deliver successful interventions to improve infant feeding outcomes and subsequent health outcomes of future generations.’

Editor in Chief of BMJ Open, Dr Trish Groves, said: ‘Any research or other article that seems to be ‘anti-breast feeding’ is, rightly, highly controversial. This study is not, however, against breast feeding: far from it.

‘We hope that parents, and anyone supporting mothers with breast feeding, will read the full paper. It provides first person accounts of how families actually feed their babies and how they feel about it, and the researchers have discussed their findings sensitively and in great depth.’