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3 August 2010
First-time mothers are more likely to stop breastfeeding before their babies are six months old if they are part of parenting support groups where a high percentage of the other mothers had stopped breastfeeding, Deakin University health researchers have found.
The researchers surveyed 501 first-time mothers as part of the Melbourne InFANT Program to find out if positive modeling and peer support through parenting groups had an influence on breastfeeding. The results of the study are published online in the latest issue of the journal Pediatrics.
In Victoria, around two-thirds of all first-time mothers attend first-time parent groups, which provide informal peer support during the first year of parenthood. Mothers normally join when their babies are around six weeks old.
Of the 501 mothers who took part in the study, almost half were no longer breastfeeding at six months. Interestingly, the researchers found that within parent groups, the greater the proportion of mothers who were still breastfeeding at the time the group was formed, the more likely were breastfeeding mothers to continue breastfeeding to six months.
“Social connections have recently been shown to have an influence on the likelihood of smoking, obesity, loneliness, and happiness. In the context of breastfeeding, whether connections with other mothers of young infants affect the likelihood of stopping breastfeeding has not previously been studied,” said Dr Adrian Cameron.
“The results of our study suggest that the behavior of the peer group is definitely influential when mothers are making decisions to breastfeed or not.”
Despite Australian and World Health Organization recommendations to breastfeed infants to at least six months, less than half of Australian infants are receiving any breast milk at this age.
“It is therefore important to develop novel strategies to improve this situation,” Dr Cameron said.
“Half of all mothers in our study who stopped breastfeeding prior to six months did so during the period six weeks to six months. This suggests that the setting of first-time parent groups, and particularly those with a low proportion of mothers who are breastfeeding when they form, may be an important target for breastfeeding promotion strategies.”
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