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How should we encourage breastfeeding?

Posted on 18 August 2011 by Louise Marryat, previous member of staff .
Tags: Family Nurse Partnership programme, Growing up in Scotland, ScotCen, Scottish Centre for Social Research, breastfeeding

It was interesting to see that this month’s World Breastfeeding Week focused on communication as one of its key themes. We know how important communication is for new mothers, having spoken to young mothers through our evaluation of the Family Nurse Partnership programme in Scotland. This programme, which is also being tested in England, gives young mothers aged under 20 intensive support from a specially trained nurse throughout their pregnancy and up until their child is aged two. You can read the initial evaluation report, which concentrates on the support given to mothers during pregnancy, to find out how these young women compared the way their Family Nurses spoke to them about breastfeeding, with the tone taken by other health professionals. Family Nurses take a strengths-based approach, exploring the pros and cons of both breastfeeding and bottle-feeding with clients, supporting them to make an informed decision with regards to breastfeeding and affirming their choice, whatever it is, once it’s made. The young women we interviewed thought this was a better approach in comparison to the ‘pressure’ they sometimes felt from other sources to breastfeed, regardless of their opinions and feelings about it.

Time is a key factor here. While Family Nurses are able to spend one to two hours with each client on a weekly or fortnightly basis during pregnancy, other health professionals (e.g. midwives) may see young mothers for a much shorter period. It takes time for Family Nurses to build a trusting and open relationship with mothers, which is really important if women are to feel confident about asking lots of questions, knowing that the response they’ll get is an honest one. This is particularly true of younger and more vulnerable women. These women need time to explore the different points of views available to them on breastfeeding and bottle feeding, so that they feel empowered about making the right choice for them and their baby.

Given the current economic climate, is there a rationale for paying health professionals to spend more time with people? Some would argue that in terms of encouraging positive health behaviours and preventing future problems, the investment is well worthwhile, particularly with more vulnerable groups. While figures for the proportion of women who actually went on to breastfeed in the Scottish pilot are not yet available, data from the evaluation of Family Nurse Partnership Programme in England show that 69% of participating mothers under 20 breastfed, in comparison with 53% of all mothers in this age group in England and Wales. What is clear is that younger mothers, like those involved in the Family Nurse Partnership, value an approach that takes account of their views and opinions and puts them in charge of deciding, based on a good understanding of all the facts, the best feeding method for them and their baby.

For more information on breastfeeding in Scotland, please see the Evaluation of the Family Nurse Partnership Phase 1 Report or visit the Growing Up in Scotland website to read relevant journal articles and reports on breastfeeding.

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