The impact of birth-related injury and pain on breastfeeding outcomes
Reasons for premature discontinuation of breastfeeding are complex; a variety of social, psychological and physical factors may contribute to a deviation from a mother's breastfeeding plan.
To investigate how actual experiences of birth and breastfeeding differed from the mother's pre-birth intentions, and any subsequent perceived impact on breastfeeding experience.
Data was collected via an online survey of UK-based women (
Respondents faced a variety of challenges when breastfeeding, including nipple soreness and pain, concerns around milk insufficiency, and birth-related pain which impacted their ability to breastfeed comfortably. Predominantly, birth-related pain made breastfeeding difficult rather than preventing it, however 5% of mothers surveyed cited it as contributing to premature cessation of breastfeeding.
Pain relating to birth may be an under-considered factor in early cessation of breastfeeding. Considering the challenges experienced when establishing and maintaining breastfeeding, it is essential to consider the cumulative pain and discomfort experienced from all sources.
Human milk is acknowledged to be the optimum source of nutrition for infants, while also being beneficial to maternal health (Victora et al, 2016). As such, the World Health Organization ([WHO], 2019) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant's life, followed by breastfeeding and appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond. Despite this, breastfeeding rates in the UK remain some of the lowest in the world; the last UK-wide infant feeding survey reporting that while 81% of mothers initiated breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding rates declined to less than 25% by six weeks (IFF Research, 2013).
The reasons for premature discontinuation of breastfeeding are complex and varied at what is a highly emotive time in a new mother's life. These issues may be social, psychological or physical (IFF Research, 2013; Odom et al, 2013). Much of the research into physical problems experienced by breastfeeding mothers focuses on issues relating to breastfeeding itself, such as latch difficulties, nipple pain and perceived milk insufficiencies (Binns and Scott, 2002; Mohammadzadeh et al, 2005; Kent et al, 2015). However, in understanding breastfeeding difficulties, other factors may also affect a mother's ability to establish a sustainable breastfeeding relationship with her infant.
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