Designer package bottled for new mothers

 

The new programme, Designer Breastfeeding, addresses gaps in the information women currently receive about breastfeeding, writes Claire O'Connell

WHAT DOES a breastfeeding baby and the children's party game "swinging for apples" have in common? Both require a similar technique to catch hold and start feeding.

It may not be an obvious connection, but the analogy has helped new mothers position their babies to latch on and get breastfeeding off to a confident start. It's just one of a number of approaches in a new motivational breastfeeding programme to be discussed at a conference tomorrow.

Called Designer Breastfeeding, the programme addresses gaps in the information women currently receive about breastfeeding, and provides them with realistic support and instruction to boost their confidence in the early weeks, according to Dr Janine Stockdale, one of the programme's developers.

"It's about good antenatal education, that women know what breastfeeding is going to be like and they have the knowledge and information to be able to take control of it," says Stockdale, a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Ulster (UU).

"If a new mother's expectations of breastfeeding are borne out in reality, she will be more confident and less likely to perceive normal events - like the baby changing his or her feeding patterns - as a problem or sign she hasn't enough milk, and that she should give up," adds Stockdale.

Many mothers stop breastfeeding in the early weeks, despite its proven health benefits to mother and baby, she notes.

"Lots of mothers start out but then slowly but surely give up. The drop-out rate for the first few weeks is really quite high. So this research was to look at the support, advice, instruction and to rewrite the curriculum that the midwives give."

That's why the UU research team put aside the textbooks and researched the actual experiences of breastfeeding women, to help provide a more realistic picture for pregnant and new mothers, rather than the "blue sky" messages in some antenatal educational literature, which depicts breastfeeding as "plain sailing", according to Stockdale.

"For some women, that blue sky or plain sailing thing really happens, but for the women whose breastfeeding experience didn't match what we told them antenatally, they found themselves out of control," she says.

The study, which was funded by the Northern Ireland Research and Development Office, looked at real stories of breastfeeding mothers and devised a motivational package to help impart that wisdom to pregnant women, so they could enter breastfeeding with more realistic expectations. She explains: "It is trying to take women's experience of breastfeeding, encapsulate it and give it to first-time mums in the antenatal period."

They came up with practical ways to deal with normal events in the early days, such as variations in feeding patterns. Babies can be sleepy feeders straight after birth because they are too worn-out to be interested, they can snack frequently during growth spurts, or they may also settle into a consistent pattern, explains Stockdale.

"Some babies, when they are born, go into a snacking phase, others go into a sleepy phase, others can be quite systematic for a few days and then hit a snacking phase. So no two babies are the same," she explains. "If then the baby feeds every half hour, it is quite normal, we call it a growth spurt. But if you don't tell the mother that beforehand, when that happens she might think that something is majorly wrong."

A controlled trial of 144 women in the Ulster Maternity Unit at Dundonald found that putting women on the Designer Breastfeeding programme when they were pregnant increased their confidence, and three weeks after the birth, 53 per cent of the Designer Breastfeeding mothers were still exclusively breastfeeding their babies, compared with only 20 per cent of the mothers who had undergone the standard education and support.

"It really came through that one group thought breastfeeding was as important as the other, but the Designer Breastfeeding group was able to match that importance with feeling confident in their abilities," says Stockdale, who worked on the project with Prof Marlene Sinclair and Prof George Kernohan.

She will discuss their findings at a conference tomorrow hosted by the section of midwifery at Dundalk Institute of Technology.

The meeting, which celebrates the International Day of the Midwife, will also feature a talk by Genevieve Becker on the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative in Ireland, and a presentation on breastfeeding support in the community by Mary McDermott, an assistant public health nurse manager in Dublin North.

Improving the links between hospitals and community groups and services is particularly important for breastfeeding mothers, says McDermott, who acknowledges that women need continued support when they return home from hospital after giving birth.

"When they come home, that's where we face a challenge. We need to get to them to give them advice," she says. "We are looking at the way we are doing things, and keeping the mother and baby at the centre of it."

She welcomes the growth in popularity of breastfeeding support groups where mothers can meet and discuss their experiences, and that public health and peer-support voluntary groups like Cuidiú and La Leche League are working together locally. "The breastfeeding support groups have taken off big time, with mums supporting each other, and that's where I see it going," she says.

• Breastfeeding . . .the best things in life are free runs tomorrow from 10am to 1pm at Dundalk Institute of Technology to mark the International Day of the Midwife and will feature talks and entertainment. Families are welcome. E-mail jill.atkinson@dkit.ie or call 042-939 3796 for more details.