The National Childbirth Trust (NCT), the UK's largest charity for parents, is recommending that the main focus of infant feeding support is shifted to the period after birth.

In a study published in Maternal and Child Nutrition, the NCT's impact review suggests that many mothers are missing out on the support they need. The charity is calling for empathic listening, skilled guidance and encouragement over a period of months, rather than just for a few days after birth.

Whilst many UK mothers have positive breastfeeding experiences, a high proportion do not get the help they need to overcome problems in the early days and weeks. Around 80% of UK mothers plan to breastfeed, however most (around 75%) stop before they had planned and nine out of ten mothers who stop in the early weeks stop before they want to.

The NCT recommends that the early weeks after birth are clearly identified as an "investment and adjustment" period.

Mary Newburn, Head of research and Information, said: "The birth of a baby involves a major life transition. New parents need to be reassured that an investment of time is needed to establish feeding. It is normal for baby care to take over your whole life for the first few weeks. It involves a major social and emotional adjustment to get used to the demands of a tiny baby.

"Life for a new mother or a new father can feel overwhelming, but things do settle down over time. Parents often need support to resolve difficulties. Getting more rest, reassurance and encouragement is often what is most needed."

Inline with the study findings, the NCT is making renewed efforts to support mothers when they are breastfeeding and when they are using formula milk, whether exclusively or in combination with breastfeeding. The charity believes support services should be parent-centred, evidence-informed and free from commercial influence.

Heather Trickey, Research Manager said: "It's time to stop categorising mothers as 'breastfeeding' or 'formula feeding'. Most mothers plan to breastfeed, some plan to use formula milk; many use formula milk having planned to breastfeed.Thinking in categories is unhelpfully divisive and can undermine the friendship and support that mothers can gain from one another. What's needed is less hollow talk of theoretical 'feeding choices' before the baby is born and a lot more focus on resourcing skilled supportive services afterwards."

To access NCT's article: Goals, dilemmas and assumptions in infant feeding education and support. Applying theory of constraints thinking tools to develop new priorities for action in Maternal and Child Nutrition, please visit: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1740-8709.2012.00417.x/full">http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1740-8709.2012.00417.x/full

Posted by Penny Hosie