Why women stop breastfeeding: study

Milk shortages and feeding issues are the main reasons mothers stop breastfeeding before six months, research has found.

The University of Queensland study examined why 34 per cent of mothers exclusively breastfeed their baby until six months, despite the global push to increase the rate to 50 per cent.

Lead researcher Dr Katrina Moss said mums primarily stopped breastfeeding because of milk shortages or breastfeeding difficulties, such as latching and mastitis.

“Mothers can feel intense pressure to breastfeed, but breastfeeding isn’t best for everyone,” Dr Moss said.

“If mothers run into breastfeeding problems they may need to supplement or stop.”

Using data from nearly 2900 women with more than 5300 children in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, researchers also found 41 per cent of mothers supplemented breastfeeding with solid food or formula.

“Feeding messages have been polarised between breastfeeding and formula, but in reality, it’s not that simple; we found six different feeding practices,” Dr Moss explained.

Dr Moss suggested mothers receive evidence-based information about natural fluctuations in breastmilk production, how to safely formula feed, and how to recognise cues that their baby is ready for solids.

“The majority of mothers don’t exclusively breastfeed, usually for very good reasons, and the support they receive needs to reflect this,” Dr Moss said.

“This study highlights the need for personalised support specific to each mother’s situation.

She also says compassion needs to play a bigger role in the breastfeeding debate, given feeding difficulties can increase the risk of perinatal anxiety.

The study has been published in the Journal of Human Lactation.