There's no doubt that breastfeeding is good for babies - but is it pushed just too hard to women, regardless of their needs and circumstances?
Researchers from the University of Aberdeen reckon it is, based on 220 interviews they did with mothers, their partners, sisters, mothers and health professionals. They found many new mums felt the advice - to breastfeed for 26 weeks - was unrealistic and unachievable.
The findings are published in BMJ Open - along with a message from the journal's editor warning to readers not to jump to the conclusion that by publishing, they are 'anti-breastfeeding'.
During the study, the researchers contrasted the idealism of the professionals with the realism of the women and their families and found that mothers who feed their baby on demand are seen as the ideal (and this is the scenario promoted by the World Health Organisation and the Department of Health) but in reality, mums who share responsibility for feeding with their partners and grandparents offer an opportunity for others to bond with the baby.
The authors said: "By promoting six months exclusive breastfeeding, policymakers are encouraging idealistic expectations and goals in pregnancy - but health services are not providing the skilled help required to establish breastfeeding after birth."
They found that some parents said they felt pressured to breastfeed, whilst some even thought its promotion was propaganda. They felt the culture was 'all or nothing' rather than 'try it and see' and did not want to be 'set up to fail'. Many new mums said that the advice about 'getting the baby into a routine' and 'getting back in control of their lives' often conflicted with the time needed to devote to breastfeeding.
Katherine Fisher, lactation consultant with parenting advice service Greatvine.com, agrees: "As a Lactation Consultant in both NHS and private practice I often note that antenatal care in the UK leads families to believe that because breastfeeding is natural, it is also easy. Coupled with the lack of information parents receive about early parenting and normal infant behaviours, many parents acquire unrealistic expectations of the early days with their newborn. GPs and Midwives are offered very little teaching about lactation and breastfeeding, but these are the primary carers who women look to for support."
But midwife Caroline Flint, also from Greatvine.com believes mothers should persevere for their babies' sakes.
"It is the ideal as far as the health of the baby is concerned," she said, while admitting 'breastfeeding is not easy'.
Caroline said her advice to women was to spend the first two weeks of their baby's life concentrating entirely on the baby.
"This means that all women need someone else there to cook for them, shop for them, answer the phone, fend off visitors etc so the new mother can be completely absorbed with her new baby," she said.
"Even better is for her to lie with the baby in her bed for the first two weeks, both of them naked, this enhances her ability to let down her milk, enables her to fall in love with her baby sooner, gives the baby access to the breast at all times rather than feeding being a time when mother has to slough off outer garments, under garments and then bra, with nakedness the boob is just THERE, and easy to access."
Caroline argues that in countries where breastfeeding is the norm, women are supported by their mother/sisters/other women to establish this kind of routine, and that they are not expected to do anything other than care for the baby.
"They are waited on and cherished as they do this important work. No-one tells them to just get on with it, they and their baby learn together what to do while they are wrapped in a bubble of caring and support from their family and friends. This can be achieved here and works well."
What do you think? Did you feel pressured into breastfeeding? And what about the idea of lying in for two weeks? Laughable in modern society? Or should we be looking to give mums the support so they can do just that?
More:Baby's First Year
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