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New mothers who are exposed to other new mothers who are breastfeeding are more likely to continue to breastfeed themselves, according to Deakin University researcher Dr Adrian Cameron.
Dr Cameron's findings arise from the Melbourne InFANT program, a study led by Drs Karen Campbell and Kylie Hesketh from Deakin University's Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research. This study involves 501 new mothers who attended first-time parent groups in Melbourne.
The study, the results of which have just been published on line in the journal Paediatrics, revealed that half of the participants were not breastfeeding at six months, and a major influence on discontinuation was the behaviour of the peer group.
Despite Australian and World Health Organisation recommendations to breastfeed infants to at least six months, the fact that only around half achieve this means that novel strategies to improve this situation are required. “The peer group may be one such avenue to improve breastfeeding rates,” Dr Cameron said.
In Victoria, around two-thirds of all new 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 those who stopped breastfeeding prior to six months, half did so during the period six weeks to six months, which is the period when peers attending first-time parent groups can have an influence," Dr Cameron said.
"The setting of first-time parent groups, and particularly those with a low proportion of mothers who are breastfeeding when they form, may therefore be an important target for breastfeeding promotion strategies.
"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.
The results of our study suggest that the behaviour of the peer group is definitely influential when mothers are making decisions to breastfeed or not.”