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Body image concerns causing shorter breastfeeding periods for obese women

ABC Health logoABC Health 7/04/2016
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Obese women breastfeed for shorter periods of time due to concerns about body image, according to new research into infant feeding.

The research found half of obese mothers in the study ceased breastfeeding in the first six months, compared to just 18 per cent of mothers with low body mass index (BMI). 

One of the researchers, Dr Ruth Newby, said the study from University of the Sunshine Coast and the Children's Nutrition Research Centre, found the reasons behind women stopping breastfeeding were more than biological.

"We looked at the breastfeeding duration of women by their BMI and found that larger women had significantly shorter breastfeeding durations than their smaller counterparts," Dr Newby said.

"We know that all mothers want to do the best that they can for the health of their baby, but we also know that larger women have difficulty meeting their own goals for breastfeeding for their infants."

The study began when women were pregnant, and they were asked how long they intended to breastfeed their child.

It found there was no significant difference between larger and smaller women's intended breastfeeding period, or their confidence in being able to achieve the desired time.

After following up with the mothers, the study concluded larger women struggled to maintain their desired breastfeeding duration.

The study also found larger women felt uncomfortable breastfeeding, even in front of their closest female friends.

"As a community we want to ensure that our community is well nourished and has healthy outcomes," Dr Newby said.

"For the mothers, it helps them lose weight after the baby is born, and helps them to protect themselves against breast and ovarian cancer in the long term."

Body image one of many obstacles for breastfeeding mothers

Dietitian and mother-of-three Malika Collett is currently breastfeeding her youngest child.

Despite having breastfed her two older children for up to a year, Ms Collett said she understood feelings of insecurity some women felt during the process.

While Ms Collett did not have issues with weight while breastfeeding, she said some social situations made her feel uneasy about breastfeeding.

"I did, and still do, breastfeed and there are situations where I feel uncomfortable," she said.

"Situations with strangers, particularly a group of men I don't know, makes me feel very uncomfortable and conscious of wanting to cover up.

"I was probably most uncomfortable when I was breastfeeding my first child."

However, Ms Collett said it was important not to focus on body image as a sole obstacle to breastfeeding, because there were many reasons women had to stop, including biological and practical issues.

"I think every mother wants to do what is best for her child and there are many reasons they cannot breastfeed for as long as they want to, more than just body image," Ms Collett said.

She said she believed many women's motivation for breastfeeding was because of the health benefits it offered to infants, not weight loss.

"I don't think many women realise breastfeeding helps with losing weight, and I don't think it should be anyone's main reason for doing it," she said.

"I always say to women, the primary objective of breastfeeding is to provide your child with the best possible start to life you can give them."

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