36% of new mothers are 'in distress', poll finds

New research shows the need for more supports for breastfeeding mothers, while a survey of women who gave birth four months before found that more than a third were in distress for a variety of reasons, writes Noel Baker.

The research, conducted by dietician Annemarie Bennett and submitted as a thesis to Dublin Institute of Technology, is entitled Maternal and Paternal Influences on Infant Diet and Growth Throughout the First Year of Life.

It investigates maternal and paternal behaviours and their influences on the diet and growth of infants in the first year of life, including maternal wellbeing and breastfeeding outcomes.

Beginning with a sample of 270 pregnant women, all of whom attended the Coombe maternity hospital, it found that 55.9% (151 women) initiated breastfeeding after giving birth.

From the initial sample, 172 mothers were followed-up at four months post-partum, by which time just 15% were breastfeeding full-time, with another 9% breastfeeding part-time.

Of the overall sample, 36% (62 women) were distressed to some extent.

According to the report: “The majority (64%) of mothers were coping well with the adjustment to motherhood. However, over a quarter (27.9%) were at some risk of distress and one in 12 (8.1%) was at a significant risk of distress. Controlling for other factors, distress was more likely at this time if a mother was breastfeeding.

“Only two in five of these mothers put supports in place to help them to breastfeed, and of the 417 men whose partner breastfed almost half were unable to help their partner.”

The report said that, of those mothers who breastfed beyond hospital discharge, 37.6% were unprepared for the challenges they encountered whilst breastfeeding. Almost half were prepared for the challenges encountered and one in seven reported having no challenges with breastfeeding.

Ms Bennett said it is very important not to “demonise” breastfeeding, as it was essential to boost breastfeeding rates in Ireland.

“It’s a very sensitive topic,” she said. “We would never like people to feel that breastfeeding will make people distressed.”

She said raising breastfeeding rates is “incredibly challenging”, with a “lack of informed support” often involving the mother, partner, and wider family.

Ms Bennett said the period following childbirth is “a period of massive adjustment”, adding: “It is understandable that a mother may feel somewhat overwhelmed by that transition.”

As for those who breastfeed, she said they “may be more likely to have that added challenge”.

“There are huge psychological associations with breastfeeding, how a mother feels about breastfeeding,” she said.

“It’s not just about that bond with the baby, it’s about the confidence of the mother with breastfeeding. We need them to feel confident in it and the benefits of it and their own ability.”

She said a culture of breastfeeding may not be within a family.

“Generationally, the last 50 years we have struggled enormously,” she said.

She said this was a problem in the 1960s and 1970s, when formula feeding came to be associated as “a sign of wealth and breastfeeding with poverty”.

The study also indicated a low level of compliance with providing recommended levels of Vitamin D to infants.

To read the full report, search for ‘maternal and paternal’ at www.arrow.dit.ie.

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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