Breastfeeding is a key public health issue that affects the health of the nation. Despite its well documented health benefits and the numerous strategies implemented to support and educate women, breastfeeding rates in the U.K. remain poor. The purpose of this descriptive phenomenological study will be to describe how the experience of professional support for mothers who successfully breastfed until 6 months was perceived. The method of inquiry will be a semi-structured focus group involving a purposive sample of 10 participants.
The aim of this study will be to describe how women who successfully exclusively breastfed until 6 months perceived professional support and to discover if there are any emerging similarities, in either the support women perceived they received from health-care staff or in the attitudes towards breastfeeding of the women themselves. It is hoped that what is discovered by this study can inform professionals how they can best support breastfeeding women, how health-care services can best utilise resources for maximum effect in providing breastfeeding support and what, if any, personal attitudes or attributes are shared by women to successfully exclusively breastfeed their infant until 6 months.
Although breastmilk is unquestionably the ideal nutrition for all newborn babies offering multiple well documented and researched health benefits to breastfeeding women and their babies, currently in England 78% of women initiate breastfeeding with only 22% exclusively breastfeeding at six weeks further reducing to just 8% of infants remaining exclusively breastfed at four months old (NHS 2007) despite World Health Organization recommendations of ‘Exclusive breastfeeding ... up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond” (WHO 2012).
Breastfed babies are at lower risk of gastro-intestinal infections (Quigley et al 2007), respiratory infections (Quigley et al 2007), necrotising enterocolitis (Lucas & Cole 1990), urinary tract infections (Marlid et al 2004), ear infections, allergies (Greer et al 2008), type 1 and 2 diabetes (Owen et al 2006), obesity (Burke et al 2005), childhood leukaemia and SIDS (Ball et al 2011). It is also suggested breastfed babies may have better neurological development (Guxens et al 2011), lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, improved dental health (Lida et al 2007) and less risk of childhood cancers and cardiovascular disease in later life.
For women who breastfeed their infants the health benefits are also significant. These women are at lower risk of ovarian cancer, breast cancer and reduced bone density (Stuebe et al 2009, WCRF 2007). Potentially breastfeeding may also decrease the risk of postnatal depression, rheumatoid arthritis and maternal type 2 diabetes (UNICEF 2011). Exclusive breastfeeding also provides women with a natural form of contraception and child-spacing as it delays the return of fertility and menstruation (Van Der Wijden et al 2008). Although this method is not 100% reliable exclusive breastfeeding can be up to 98% effective in the first six months as a contraceptive method (WHO 2012). One of the most popular benefits of breastfeeding among women is the likelihood of returning to pre-pregnancy weight. Lactating women are more likely to experience greater weight-loss than none lactating women due the calorific cost of producing breastmilk (Hatsu et al 2008). Not only does breastfeeding use more calories but the hormone involved in the production of breastmilk, prolactin, also causes muscular contractions aiding in the involution of the uterus to pre-pregnancy state. Alongside these health benefits is also the economic benefit, breastmilk is free.
Breastfeeding has such an impact on health and wellbeing throughout the