Women Need More Support to Breastfeed When They Return To Work, Study Finds

By Hannah Schenker

A new study has found that mothers in New Zealand need much better support to continue breastfeeding when they return to work, and that employers need to be better educated about the law.

We all know by now that the WHO recommends at least six months of exclusive breastfeeding to provide newborn babies with the nutrients they need for the best start in life, and to continue breastfeeding alongside introducing solid foods up until 2 years (and beyond).

However, while 97 per cent of babies in New Zealand are being exclusively breastfed straight after birth, this drops off to 54 per cent at four months of age, and a low 16 per cent at six months of age (findings from research in the University of Auckland’s Growing Up in New Zealand study, published December 2017 in the New Zealand Medical Journal).

Why is this? Most studies link low breastfeeding rates to lower socio economic status, lower education levels and a lack of support. However a new study from Massey University, led by Dr Narges Alianmoghaddam, has found that even for mothers with better socioeconomic status and higher education, it is returning to work that is the biggest barrier to continued breastfeeding, and they argue that this has so far not been taken into rightful consideration.

“Most studies have linked barriers to six months exclusive breastfeeding to difficulties within the mother-infant dyad, as well as negative maternal socioeconomic and socio-demographic characteristics. However, this study has shown that the maintenance of six months exclusive breastfeeding is also challenging for this group of mothers who were socially advantaged, well-educated and highly motivated to breastfeed their babies exclusively for six months.” – Reasons for Stopping Exclusive Breastfeeding Between Three and Six Months: A Qualitative Study. Journal of Pediatric Nursing.

The study was carried out between September 2013-July 2014, involving interviews with 30 socially advantaged, well-educated women who, before having their child, were highly motivated to make it to the six-month mark. Just half of these participants made it to six months exclusive breastfeeding.

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