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Research to support women to breastfeed successfully

Baby breastfeeding

An OU academic is co-investigator for a project which is studying the levels of support that women need so that they can breastfeed successfully.

The project, which has been awarded funding by the National Institute of Health Research is led by Professor Alison McFadden, Mother & Infant Research Unit at the University of Dundee.

Lifelong benefits of breastfeeding

The team includes Louise Wallace, OU Professor of Psychology & Health, who brings expertise in health behaviour and implementing healthcare strategies including breastfeeding support services.

She said: “Understanding what works to improve breastfeeding support and enable women to breastfeed successfully for as long as they wish to is fundamental to the public health strategies to address inequalities.

“The lifelong benefits are globally recognised, but local services too often fail to provide what women need. This research will provide feasible and affordable evidence-based service solutions.”

1 in 5 women stop breastfeeding

According to Professor Wallace, breastfeeding has the greatest known impact of any preventative health intervention, yet the UK has among the lowest breastfeeding rates globally, and those with greatest socio-economic disadvantage are the least likely to breastfeed, adding to even greater health inequality. One in five UK women stop breastfeeding before they intended, causing distress.

Women report feeling unsupported by healthcare providers and there are fewer resourced support services in recent years. There is a critical need to assess what can be learnt from global evidence that is transferable to the UK context and to understand the cost implications and return on investment of breastfeeding support interventions.

Evaluating support services

This research will learn from global evidence of what works, and how this can be implemented in a UK context. This 18-month project will synthesise global evidence from high quality research, assess the costs of implementation in the UK, and design methods to evaluate services to support breastfeeding. Women with infants, parent charities, health service professionals and commissioners will work with the team to make the guidance practical for the UK.

The other co-investigators on the project: “Co-production of an NHS-tailored implementation and evaluation strategy framework to support women in the UK to breastfeed with a focus on reducing health inequities: evidence synthesis with stakeholder engagement” are: Dr Albert Farre, Dr Anna Gavine, Dr Fiona Lynn, Dr Joyce Marshall, Mr Jonathan West, Mrs Phyllis Buchananan, Professor Angie Wade.

This describes independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) under its Health Services and Delivery Research Programme (NIHR130995). The views expressed are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

Read more about OU research in the OU’s faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies

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