Infant feeding : an investigation into costs and practices
Numerous studies have shown the benefits of breastfeeding, however, the incidence and duration of breastfeeding in the UK is low and static, and breastfeeding rates in Liverpool in the North West of the UK are even lower. Breastfeeding is frequently promoted as being free yet little research has been carried out to substantiate this claim. Further, little is known about breastfeeding practices in Liverpool. Four inter-related studies were conducted to investigate the cost of infant feeding and associated practices. Initially a database was compiled of infant feeding products, this revealed a vast number of products marketed to both breast and formula feeding mothers. Semi-structured interviews were then conducted to identify all the items purchased for feeding infants up to the age of four months. The results of these interviews revealed that breastfeeding was more expensive than formula feeding but high and low cost models suggest that substantial savings could be made. Many mothers purchased items and subsequently did not use or need them. The suggestion that infant feeding and particularly breastfeeding has become unnecessarily commercialised was supported by content analysis of a wide range of UK pregnancy and baby magazines. These were consistent with parenthood being a consumer experience to be 'perfected', in addition to emphasising the need for 'expert' advice. Breastfeeding messages were undermined by formula company advertisements and breastfeeding was frequently presented as being painful and problematic. With these conflicting messages, it may not be surprising that many women initiated breastfeeding but ceased within three months. Those who did initiate breastfeeding frequently gave 'baby-centred' reasons such as breast is best whilst those who initiated formula feeding gave 'mother-centred' reasons such as others could help with feeding. Many women who ceased breastfeeding would have liked to have continued, and cited reasons that could have been overcome with increased support and encouragement. The importance of being supported was further highlighted by the women who attended the infant feeding clinic. This study has demonstrated that the materials needed for breastfeeding are clearly identified and health professionals are trained to support parents. In addition, the media needs to be persuaded to help create and support a breastfeeding culture, with the risks of formula feeding clearly communicated.