Under half of breastfeeding British mums are not receiving the support they need with poorer ones the worst affected, a new study found.
The UK has issued guidance that women should be offered support groups to help them learn about and keep on breastfeeding as less than one per cent of mothers exclusively breastfeed for six months.
And young poor white mums are the least likely to breastfeed.
Yet there was a lack of information about how, when, and where breastfeeding peer support was provided.
British scientists found there was no standardised provision of breastfeeding peer support around the UK, and services were regularly adapted in line with funding available, rather than number of births or perceived need.
They found breastfeeding peer supporters were available in only 56 per cent of NHS areas.
Lead author Research Associate Dr Aimee Grant of Cardiff University said: “The World Health Organisation recommends that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, with breastfeeding continuing alongside complementary foods until at least two years of age.
“One way in which it is recommended that breastfeeding is supported is through the use of peer counsellors in the community.
“Peer support is one model of peer counselling, developed by the La Leche
League in the 1950s.
“It has been defined as ‘support offered by women who have received appropriate training and either have themselves breast fed or have the same socioeconomic background, ethnicity, or locality as the women they are supporting.
“Within the UK, breastfeeding rates are particularly low. Less than one per cent of mothers exclusively breastfeed for six months, and this is lower among mothers who are younger, less affluent, and of White British ethnicity.
“The UK body, which recommends health treatments to commissioners in England, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), recommends the provision of a peer‐support service as part of the strategy to increase
breastfeeding rates in the UK.
“However, it does not specify a model of service provision. Little is currently known about how peer support is provided, or the content and reach of such services
in the UK.”
The study surveyed all 696 UK infant feeding coordinators who were part of National Infant Feeding Networks, covering 177 NHS organisations.
Just under a fifth or 136 service managers with jobs related to infant feeding responded.
However, coverage within areas was variable. The provision of training and ongoing supervision, and peer‐ supporter roles, varied significantly between services.
Around one third of respondents felt that breastfeeding peer‐support services were not well integrated with NHS health services.
Financial issues were commonly reported to have a negative impact on service provision.
One quarter of respondents stated that breastfeeding peer support was not accessed by mothers from poorer social backgrounds.
Dr Grant concluded: “This research highlights that breastfeeding peer support services vary around the UK, meaning that mothers who want to breastfeed receive very different services depending on where they live
“We also found that although services wanted to attract mothers from poorer areas, they did not always attract them as service users, which may exacerbate health inequalities.”
The study was published in the journal Maternal & Child Nutrition