Exploring successful breastfeeding strategies for young mums

Dr Eva Neely at her PhD graduation in 2016, with daughter Laurel.

Dr Christina Severinsen from the School of Health Sciences.

Dr Neely takes her daughter Laurel to work, when needed.

This World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7), Massey University researchers are sharing knowledge from a recent study that explored the experiences and resilience of young mothers that breastfed exclusively to six months or beyond.

The study aimed to identify the strategies that made breastfeeding successful for young mothers, across a broad range of situations.

Dr Eva Neely and Dr Christina Severinsen, from Massey’s School of Health Sciences, carried out the research and are currently working through the findings.

Dr Neely says the final research findings will inform further strategies and support systems for new mothers. “We were interested in mothers’ journeys, what made them successful, and how they progressed throughout. We know it’s different for everyone, and both mother and baby have different needs, so it’s about understanding more about what worked, what didn’t, and sharing advice for mums who might be struggling.”

In-depth interviews were carried out with 44 young mothers who had breastfed their babies for more than six months. Through narrative analysis, the stories of participants are used to explore determinants of successful breastfeeding.

Dr Severinsen says participants reflected on their breastfeeding intentions, initiation and support of breastfeeding, social and environmental influences, overcoming challenges and changes over time. “Preliminary results indicate that mothers identified their key reasons for success and offered suggestions for supporting young mothers in their breastfeeding journeys, including social support and equitable access to free lactation consultant services.”

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life is a universally acknowledged public health goal, but New Zealand’s breastfeeding rates drop steeply to around 25 per cent at six months. Dr Neely says young mothers are often represented in a negative light in terms of their mothering capabilities and for breastfeeding, young mothers are seen to be ‘at risk’ and unsuccessful.

“However, 59 per cent of New Zealand mothers aged under 25 years are exclusively feeding at discharge from their lead maternity carer, around four to six weeks after birth.”

The research will be used to identify the services, strategies and support systems across multiple levels that act as enablers of breastfeeding survival in young mothers and inform the development of breastfeeding promotion strategies.

On a personal level, Dr Neely says she has always been supported to bring her babies to work, particularly while breastfeeding. “I have also been lucky enough to do my hours as I wish to support this, and consequently was able to continue breastfeeding, which my two and a half year-old still enjoys today. If we want a New Zealand in which mothers are truly supported to breastfeed their babies, we need more of this acceptance around mothering and work. Children are part of our lives, and leaving home to go to work doesn’t eliminate those needs.”

Two years ago when she graduated from Massey, Dr Neely walked across the stage to receive her PhD with her new baby in a front pack and her three-year-old in tow. “My eldest daughter was born during my PhD, and I worked through sleep deprivation and guilt, so it only felt appropriate to take her up there with me too.”

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