More support needed for breastfeeding mothers: study

EDMONTON- When it comes to breastfeeding, the World Health Organization recommends infants have only breast milk for the first six months of their life. However, a new study out of the University of Alberta shows nearly half of new mothers who breastfeed their infants are weaning them early.

Researchers surveyed 402 new mothers from Edmonton and Calgary, 99 per cent of whom started out breastfeeding their babies. Three months later, only 54 per cent of mothers were still exclusively breastfeeding. That number dropped to 15 per cent by six months, which is in line with the national average according to Anna Farmer, an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science at the U of A.

“We were surprised that there were such neutral attitudes towards breastfeeding,” Farmer said Thursday.

Ninety-four per cent of the women in the study who stopped breastfeeding after three months said it was because they didn’t produce enough milk. However, Farmer says only about five per cent of women have physical problems with milk production.

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“Feeding on demand or feeding more frequently certainly can build up the milk stores,” she explained.

According to Farmer, a lack of nursing rooms in public places and feeling uncomfortable breastfeeding in public are other main reasons mothers shortened the nursing period.

“The social environment needs to be more open. Women need spaces where they can breastfeed quietly without feeling ashamed,” Farmer said.

New mother Amy Soetaert hopes to breastfeed her six-week-old daughter Payton as long as possible, but admits the first few weeks haven’t been easy.

“The thing that was most frustrating for me was just being so engorged and her not being able to latch, and she’s hungry and she’s screaming and I’m frustrated,” she explained.

And Soetaert is not alone.

“It was pretty awful. I really struggled with Amelia. We were in the hospital an extra day because we had such a hard time with it,” said mother of two, Megan Quinn.

Quinn says she knows breastfeeding is the best thing for her babies, but decided to switch to formula with both of her children.

“It’s drilled into you from all the books and from nursing and the prenatal classes at the hospital that breastfeeding is the best thing for your baby,” she explained. “So I really struggled with my feeling about well, how is me crying every three hours every time I have to feed her because it’s going so horribly, good for my baby?”

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Farmer says many women have troubles breastfeeding, and because of that believes new mothers need more support prior to giving birth to overcome any doubts they may have about breastfeeding their newborns.

“Women’s attitudes towards breastfeeding even before the baby is born can predict whether or not moms are going to breastfeed, so it is important that everything from the home environment to public spaces supports nursing moms,” she explained. “We need to address their concerns and misconceptions about breastfeeding, especially young first-time mothers.”

The study also showed mothers with other children were more likely to breastfeed for longer.

With files from Su-Ling Goh, Global News.