Aim: To determine the types and timing of breastfeeding support for mothers of newborn babies and the extent to which this affects breastfeeding intentions and behaviours in a region with low rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration.
Methods: A cross-sectional study by interviewer-administrated questionnaire was undertaken of women birthing at a large teaching hospital in South Western Sydney, between August and October 2006 (n= 164), with a 2-week follow-up of breastfeeding or breastfeeding-intending women (n= 107). Types, timing and satisfaction with personal and professional sources of support (e.g. antenatal classes, help at birth, practical lessons on how to breastfeed, providing information, and attitude towards breastfeeding) and the impact of these on breastfeeding intention and behaviours were assessed.
Results: Most women had intended to breastfeed (76.2%), and, within the first 24 hours, 77.4% of babies were breastfed to some extent (45.1% exclusively), and at 2 weeks 65.9% were breastfed (9.7% exclusively). Women felt most supported by their partners and least supported by their health-care team. Antenatal classes, breastfeeding help within half an hour of birth and positive health-care team attitudes were related to improved breastfeeding intentions and behaviours. However, these supports were infrequently reported. Personal support was commonly reported although support delivered by professionals was related to better breastfeeding behaviours.
Conclusion: Despite the effectiveness of professional support interventions, particularly those delivered in the antenatal and immediate post-natal period, access to these sources of support was very low. For breastfeeding outcomes to be improved, effective professional support strategies need to be much more widely available.