By: 21 January 2015
University research suggests young mothers feel disempowered to breastfeed

NCT reacts to research and calls for more support for young mothers

Research published in January’s edition of the Journal of Maternal and Child Nutrition identified a number of post-birth experiences that impact young mothers’ intentions to breastfeed. The study, carried out by the University of West London’s College of Nursing, Midwifery and Healthcare, aimed to determine best practice for inpatient breastfeeding support for young mothers.

The qualitative study of 15 young mothers aged 16–20 identified three main themes of inpatient experiences. These are post-birth experience on the labour ward: disempowered and passive; the postnatal ward: alien, alone and exposed; and being there: a need for relational support.

Analysis of the study showed that:

·      the initiation of breastfeeding for the study’s participants was compromised due to healthcare professionals interrupting the skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby;

·      young mother participants recalled being tired and dazed post-birth, and had considerable anxiety about breastfeeding their infants;

·      mothers saw themselves as outsiders on the postnatal ward where they didn’t feel comfortable or understand what was expected of them and lacked the confidence to request help; and

·      as a result of these feelings, most of the new mothers in this study either worked out how to breastfeed on their own or didn’t initiate breastfeeding at all.

A key aim of the study was to determine best practice for inpatient breastfeeding support for this cohort. The research highlighted the need for such support, as participants who intended to breastfeed said they were not given adequate inpatient assistance. In spite of this, the research found that healthcare professionals are the preferred providers of breastfeeding guidance, but young women also look to their peers for emotional support.

Louise Hunter, senior midwifery lecturer at the University of West London, said: “Current evidence suggests that young mothers are less likely to breastfeed than their older counterparts, and our research indicates that more young women would breastfeed if given more appropriate care while in hospital. Increasing breastfeeding rates amongst this group is a health service priority in the UK – this could save the NHS £40 million a year. Therefore, our research in the field is critical.

“Giving birth was an overwhelming experience for these young mothers. Their vulnerability and lack of confidence had a huge impact on breastfeeding initiation, discouraging some altogether. It is especially important that young mothers receive proactive support from healthcare professionals. If breastfeeding is the preferred choice, these mothers need active encouragement from both professionals and their peers.”

In response to UWL’s research, Rosie Dodds, senior policy Adviser at NCT, a national charity for parents, said: “Young women can be alienated by poor care when having a baby. Many of the problems in maternity services could be addressed through better continuity of carer. Mothers, particularly young mothers, can be hesitant to ask for help and they need to be supported by a midwife that they know and trust throughout their pregnancy, birth and afterwards.”

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