Breastfeeding: The Best Start in Life

Wednesday, 9 July 2008
Nora Mulcahy, RGN, RM, RNT, MSc , Department of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland
Genevieve S. Gallagher, BSc, RGN , Department of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Limerick, Galway, Ireland

Learning Objective 1: understand the overwhelming superiority of breast milk in terms of health, cognitive benefits and reductions in infant and child mortalities.

Learning Objective 2: understand the theories and models involved in breastfeeding decision-making.

Human milk meets the specific needs of infants (Royal College of Midwives, 2002), and the evidence regarding its' superiority is overwhelming, in terms of health (Cunningham et al, 1991), cognitive benefits (Anderson et al., 1999) and reductions in infant and child mortalities (WHO, 2002). The WHO (2002), also state that every baby should be breastfed from birth to six months exclusively, and partially up to two years of age and beyond.

It is believed that personal attitudes have a major impact on breastfeeding decisions (Connolly et al., 1998; Mc Kinley and Hyde, 2004), and that decisions are generally made before pregnancy (Bella, 1997; Frew and Scott, 2005; Kang et al., 2005; Stewart-Knox et al., 2003). Therefore an awareness of attitudes and beliefs are essential to allow for successful promotion.

It is vital to understand the theories and models involved in predicting breastfeeding behaviours. The Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) has been used extensively and has become a useful tool in determining infant feeding decisions and understanding the personal motivational components of breastfeeding behaviour (Dodgson et al., 2003B; Duckett et al., 1998; O'Keefe et al, 1998). It is important to identify these perceptions and attitudes (Bella and Debal, 1997) in order to adopt successful promotion and future interventions to counteract the low prevalence of breastfeeding.

It is hoped that the information gained from the study will be of benefit to nurses, midwives, health and educational professionals as they encompass a crucial role in communicating positive views on breastfeeding to potential parents from the pre-conception to post delivery phase.