12/02/2008

University 'Gets Abreast' Of Baby Feeding Problem

Northern Ireland has long been acknowledged as having both the lowest initial take up of breastfeeding and the poorest duration.

Now, a programme devised by researchers at the University of Ulster has been shown to significantly increase the length of time new mothers breastfeed their infants.

Researchers were responding to statistics in the Infant Breastfeeding Survey in 2005 which showed that only 63% of Northern Ireland mothers began breastfeeding in hospital, compared to 78% in England, 70% in Scotland and 67% in Wales.

They said ideally, mothers should breastfeed their children for the first six months of life, but only a negligible percentage of mothers persist for that duration.

Figures show that, at six weeks, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding was 22% in England compared to a much lower 13% in Northern Ireland.

At four months the Northern Ireland rate falls gain to 4% - compared to 8% in England.

Now however, a clinical trial based on a programme devised by Ulster researchers – called Designer Breastfeeding - showed that dramatic improvements are possible.

A total of 144 women who had their first baby took part in the trial at the Ulster Hospital Maternity Unit.

They were split into two groups – one taking part in the Designer Breastfeeding programme and the other using the normal support services of the "Baby-Friendly" maternity unit.

The results showed that 82% of those taking part in the new programme began breastfeeding, compared to 70% in the other group.

On discharge from hospital 64% of those on the programme were still breastfeeding exclusively compared to 44% in the other group and at three weeks the figures were 53% and 20% respectively.

Researcher Professor Marlene Sinclair, Professor of Midwifery Research at Ulster, said: "Designer Breastfeeding is an unique, home-grown breastfeeding programme that closes the gap between what women want to know about breastfeeding and what health professionals think they need to know."

She pointed out that while the percentage of mothers who begin breastfeeding in hospital continues to rise, around a fifth will stop breastfeeding before they leave hospital.

(BMcC)

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