The motivational programme, developed over five years by midwifery researchers at Ulster University, is designed to help women take control of their breastfeeding experience.
Figures from the 2005 Infant Breastfeeding Survey showed only 63% of Northern Irish mothers began breastfeeding in hospital, compared with 78% in England. At six weeks, 22% of mothers in England were exclusively breastfeeding compared with just 13% in Northern Ireland.
In August 2006, 144 new mothers took part in a trial of the Ulster programme, called Designer Breastfeeding, at the hospital’s maternity unit. Half used the programme – which includes an instruction book, CD-ROM, antenatal workshops and postnatal support from midwives – while half used the unit’s usual support services.
The researchers said 82% of programme participants began breastfeeding while in hospital, compared with 70% of controls. After three weeks, over half of those on the programme were still breastfeeding exclusively compared with only a fifth of those in the control group.
Marlene Sinclair, professor of midwifery research at Ulster University, said: ‘We know the preventative health benefits of breastfeeding are dose-related and the longer a mother breastfeeds, the better it is for her health and that of her baby.
‘Closing the gap between what women want to know about breastfeeding and what we as health professionals need to know is the first important step in creating a new breastfeeding culture across the UK,’ she added.
Mary Caddell, RCM regional officer for Northern Ireland, said the programme had the potential to become part of routine training. ‘A programme that can make a significant difference to the number of new mothers sustaining breastfeeding could be a valuable asset,’ she said.
The findings were presented last week at a Doctoral Midwifery Research Society meeting in Northern Ireland.