More than half of breastfeeding mothers stop by the time they leave hospital study reveals

A study has found that while more than three-quarters of new mothers will try breastfeeding their baby at least once, by the time of discharge from hospital more than half will have stopped.

The Cork BASELINE Birth Cohort study has charted the progress of approximately 1,600 infants born at Cork University Maternity Hospital, from before they were born.

Some preliminary data will be published today by researchers and among the findings is evidence that breastfeeding rates in Ireland remain stubbornly low.

Dr Deirdre Murray, principal investigator in the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at Cork University Hospital, said the data indicated that many Irish mothers are keen to breastfeed, but that there is not enough of a culture of breastfeeding here, or sufficient supports.

The study involved pregnant women and charted the progress of babies at two days, two months, six months, 12 months, and two years. Funded by the National Children’s Research Centre Crumlin, the Food Standards Agency in Britain and the EU, it found Irish mothers are complying very well with recommendations that babies be given daily Vitamin D supplements, with 80% of those in the study doing so.

It also shows that genetic factors and maternal allergies can indicate the likelihood of a baby having eczema or other allergies — particularly when combined with a measurement of water loss or ‘skin barrier function’ in babies at two days and two months old.

Dr Murray said measuring the level of trans-epidermal water loss can indicate the likelihood of eczema developing.

However, the focus on early feeding habits, to be outlined by Dr Mairéad Kiely of UCC’s School of Food and& Nutritional Sciences and research associate Sinéad O’Donovan, will highlight the relatively low level of breastfeeding in Ireland.

Dr Murray said the data indicates that 81% of mothers breastfed their babies at least once, but this figure dropped to 34% by the time of discharge from hospital.

At two months old, about 14% of babies were being exclusively breastfed, while around 1% were still being breastfed at six months.

These figures are for exclusive breastfeeding - that is, with no supplementary feeding.

“The potential is there for 75% of mothers to breastfeed if they were given the proper supports,” Dr Murray said. She said a culture of breastfeeding and a greater acceptance of it in public would also help, but said: “In Ireland we do not have that.”

The BASELINE project is funded to allow assessment of the children until age 5, a process that will take up to three more years. Researchers are hoping the study can continue beyond that stage, if funding can be secured.

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