Support programs for young mothers to help them breastfeed their babies for a longer period of time and to breast milk the baby’s sole source of nutrition, according to a new review of existing data.
The researchers conclude that breast-feeding support – whether educational or simply to encourage by trained professionals or lay people in general benefited women and their babies.
“Breastfeeding is very important,” says lead author Alison McFadden, who is in charge of the Mother and the Baby Research Unit at the University of Dundee in the united kingdom. “Good support mothers to breastfeed longer and exclusively breastfeed, which is obviously good for mothers and babies.”
McFadden and her colleagues are part of the international Cochrane network of researchers who analyze evidence about the health of the subjects. Their new review published in the Cochrane Library.
The World Health Organization recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life, and get breast milk along with other food until they are two years old.
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Babies who are breastfed are less likely to develop infections, are too heavy and develop diabetes, the researchers write.
“For women, it reduces the incidence of breast and ovarian cancer and diabetes,” McFadden told Reuters Health.
For the study, the researchers analyzed 73 studies that compared breastfeeding women support to women who received no aid or other form of intervention. Overall, 75,000 women and their babies were included in the analysis. Most were from upper – middle-income countries.
Support can come in many forms, the authors say, including reassurance, praise, information and opportunities to discuss problems and ask questions.
Women who received support were about 8 percent less likely to stop breastfeeding before six months, compared with women who do not have the extra help.
For every 1,000 women who receive the added help, 304 stopped breastfeeding by four to six weeks and 510 stopped breastfeeding by six months, while that for every 1,000 women who do not receive aid, 353 stopped within four to six weeks and 573 stopped six months.
Also, 732 of every 1,000 women that were supported are no longer exclusively breastfeeding after six months, while the same is true for 823 out of every 1000 “not supported” women.
Certain factors may make the support more valuable for mothers and babies, the researchers found.
For example, it didn’t matter if a health care provider or a trained seemed to be the support provided. But, McFadden said: “it must be offered, the proactive and planned, so that mothers know when to expect support.”
In addition, face-to-face contact and support proved to be better than the help provided over the phone.
“The people who we hope will take note of this are that the provision of breastfeeding support from the health professional and the people that the policy of the public health,” said McFadden.
The next step for this type of research would be to these support services are available for a large number of women.
For new parents and parents-to-be, McFadden said, it is important to ask their health care providers about breastfeeding support programs.
“If that support is not available, try it out,” she said.