Pressurising mums to breastfeed when they are struggling with feeding difficulties could trigger anxiety and depression, new research has suggested.
Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia have described the “breast is best” push as “out of touch”, with figures revealing only around a third of mums exclusively breastfeed to six months.
What’s more the intense pressure to encourage mums to breastfeed, coupled with the issues some mums can experience nursing their babies, can lead to postnatal depression.
Despite a global push to increase breastfeeding rates to 50%, the study, published in the Journal of Human Lactation, found only 34% of mothers exclusively breastfeed to six months.
Using data from nearly 2,900 women with more than 5,300 children in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, the researchers also found 41% of mothers supplemented breastfeeding with solid food or formula.
Lead researcher Dr Katrina Moss said mums typically stopped breastfeeding because of milk shortages or breastfeeding difficulties, such as latching and mastitis.
“Mothers can feel intense pressure to breastfeed, but breastfeeding isn’t best for everyone,” Dr Moss said in a statement.
“If mothers run into breastfeeding problems they may need to supplement or stop.
“Feeding difficulties can increase the risk of perinatal anxiety and depression, which is experienced by up to 20% of mothers,” Dr Moss added.
Dr Moss said she believes compassion must play a bigger role in the bottle v breastfeeding debate as well as a recognition that there are more than just two options when it comes to choosing how to feed your baby.
“Feeding messages have been polarised between breastfeeding and formula, but in reality, it’s not that simple; we found six different feeding practices,” Dr Moss said.
Researchers hop their findings will help health providers to provide increase information to help support mothers no matter how they feed their baby.
“The majority of mothers don’t exclusively breastfeed, usually for very good reasons, and the support they receive needs to reflect this,” Dr Moss said.
“This study highlights the need for personalised support specific to each mother’s situation.”
The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months, and continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
But in June 2018 the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) guidance published new guidance for mothers, claiming mums should not be shamed into breastfeeding and their choice to bottle feed must be respected.
Breastfeeding rates in Britain remain among the lowest in the world. While 73% of babies start off being breastfed, just 45% receive it after six weeks.