Study: Rural and regional women need more support to breastfeed

A new study by La Trobe University researchers, published on BMJ Open, reveals that while breastfeeding rates in regional communities are increasing, there is a need for greater support for at-risk regional and rural women to initiate breastfeeding.

The study, which draws on data collected from almost 7,500 women who gave birth at a large regional Victorian hospital between 2010 and 2017, identifies a number of risk factors in new mothers that contribute to lower rates of breastfeeding.

These risk factors include:

  • Higher Body Mass Index (BMI);
  • Teenage motherhood;
  • Smoking;
  • Being from a disadvantaged background.

La Trobe Associate Professor Melanie Bish says that while all women can benefit from additional breastfeeding support, those falling into the above risk factor categories have the most to gain.

“Our study shows that whether or not a woman initiates breastfeeding can be based on a range of factors – both physiological and social – from how she feels about her body, to what her friendship group says,” Associate Professor Bish says.

“If health professionals … are aware of these risk factors, they can develop strong, trusting relationships with women during pregnancy, and promote the benefits of initiating breastfeeding.

“This targeted support could have huge long-term benefits for both mothers and babies.”

Breastfeeding during the first month of life has many physical and mental health benefits, including reducing neonatal mortality and enhancing mother-child bonding.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that infants be breastfed exclusively until six months of age to achieve optimal growth, development and health, with breastfeeding continuing as part of the infant’s diet up to two years of age.

For more information and to read the study, visit: bmjopen.bmj.com/content/11/2/e044884

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