World Breastfeeding Week 2019 – New research understanding mothers’ experiences of breastfeeding

By Dr Sarah Dean (Health Psychologist & Senior Lecturer in Health Psychology).

Dr Sarah Dean

A large amount of research has shown that breastfeeding has several health benefits for both the parent and the child. For example, mothers who breastfeed are less likely to develop conditions such as ovarian cancer, breast cancer and diabetes, and breastfeeding protects infants from a range of health problems and illness. Benefits can continue across the lifespan with breastfed individuals having lower rates of obesity and diabetes when they are adolescents and adults (WHO, NHS).

Breastfeeding can also help with bonding and attachment and when women have positive experiences with breastfeeding it can support their mental health.

Lots of people are surprised to learn that the World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and that breastfeeding continues alongside appropriate complementary food until the child is aged 2 years and beyond!

Unfortunately, even though a lot of new mums would like to breastfeed their babies, many find it difficult. There are various different things that can make breastfeeding hard, for example, finding it painful, being unsure if baby is getting enough milk, not wanting to breastfeed in public, having a lack of support, feeling worried that other people might have negative views towards breastfeeding and not being able to carry on breastfeeding when going back to work.

At the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, here at Staffordshire University, we are carrying out research to try and understand more about people’s experiences of feeding their children so that we can work towards removing some of these barriers. This will hopefully mean that more women, who want to, can breastfeed for longer and more women could consider breastfeeding as a realistic option.

Staffordshire University Psychology Breastfeeding Research:

We have a growing number of staff and students carrying out research into breastfeeding.

Dr. Amy Burton, Dr. Jenny Taylor, Dr. Alison Owen and myself are currently involved in a study exploring the experiences of mums who are breastfeeding a child over the age of 1 year. In this exciting research mums took pictures of their breastfeeding experiences and were then interviewed about these. So many people wanted to take part that we are also collecting additional pictures and information online! We are currently planning the next phase of the research, where we will develop and evaluate an intervention to help change and improve people’s attitudes towards breastfeeding.

Images taken by mothers for our breastfeeding research

Sarah is working on a joint project with Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology graduate Dr Sarah Thurgood, to explore the experiences that new Mums in Stoke have of feeding their babies. This research is important because the UK has some of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world and Stoke-on-Trent has low rates compared to other areas of the country. Sarah Thurgood is also working with Jenny and Amy to publish her doctorate research that explored the breastfeeding support experiences of first time mothers.

Alison and MSc by Applied Research Graduate Alex Morley-Hewitt recently published a paper that reviewed research into body image and breastfeeding (click here to view the published paper). They found that women who had negative feelings towards their bodies were less likely to start breastfeeding and those who did were less likely to carry on breastfeeding compared to women with more positive feelings towards their bodies.

Another Masters student, on our MSc Foundations of Clinical Psychology course, Lucy Pudsey, is working with Sarah and Jenny to write up her dissertation research that explored the experiences of women who breastfeed a child for over 12 months.

We are keen for more of our UG and PG students to join us in researching breastfeeding!

World Breastfeeding Week 2019

For more information about this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, which runs each year from 1st to 7th August 2019, please visit the WHO website (click here).

Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology

Staffordshire University has a history of excellence in teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research has active team of Health Psychologists who conduct research and provide consultancy in a range of health-related issues.

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