UK wide baby feeding trial attracts almost 200 first-time mothers

ALMOST 200 first-time mums have volunteered for a study into whether extra support helps them feed their babies in a way that works for them.
They have joined a UK-wide study called ABA-feed, which is being led in Swansea Bay by a health board team of specialist midwives.

Left: Jessica Bevan with baby Trixie

While breastfeeding can improve the health of mothers and babies, fewer women in the UK breastfeed than those in other countries.
Many of them will stop breastfeeding within the first fortnight. Earlier research has suggested that most of these women would have liked more support to help them continue.

The latest study is open to first-time mums regardless of how they plan to feed their baby. They are allocated randomly into one of two groups.
One receives the standard information and support provided by their midwife, health visitor or voluntary groups. This is known as usual care.

The second group receive the same usual care but are also offered additional support before and after their babies are born.
Research midwife Sharon Jones said: “ABA-feed is a UK-wide study which compares two ways of how we provide support for mums in relation to how they feed their babies.

“We know that, for a variety of reasons, a huge number of women who initiate breastfeeding drop off very early on.
“This study looks at whether having an enhanced support, as in peer support, improves continuation of successful breastfeeding.

“We came on board as a health board because we recognised it is a very important study. We really want to promote breastfeeding and are keen to explore ways to provide the most effective support for new mothers.

“We want to support women to be able to breastfeed their babies for as long as they can and want to.”


 Left: Rachel Warwick with baby Evelyn

Breastfeeding is not for everyone, and Swansea Bay’s infant feeding coordinator, midwife Heather O’Shea, said nobody would ever try to force them.
But, she said, 65 per cent of women in Swansea Bay wanted to, and started, breastfeeding, only for this to drop to 45 per cent after two weeks.

“The main reason they stop breastfeeding is because they feel either that it’s too painful or they don’t have enough milk,” said Heather.

“Whereas actually if you give really good support early on, the pain will go, and they will be reassured that they do have enough milk. In most cases there is enough, but babies just like to feed really frequently.

“Some women do really struggle. We would never want to force anyone to breastfeed. What we try to do, especially antenatally, when women are pregnant, is to give them correct information.

“There are a lot of myths about breastfeeding. That it’s going to be really hard, and because we’ve been brought up, especially in South Wales where there is predominantly a bottle-feeding culture, a lot of women will never have been exposed to breastfeeding.

“They just feel automatically like it’s not for them. And that’s fine if they don’t want to do it. We’re never going to force anybody, but we want to provide the right information. We want to let people know that there are a number of benefits that they may not be aware of.”

Heather said that, for women, breastfeeding can help reduce the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and cardiac conditions later in life. And for babies it can reduce the risk of diabetes, of childhood infections, and the risk of being hospitalised in their first two years.


Above: some of the maternity team, peer supporters and mums taking part in the ABA-Feed trial

“And of course it’s better for the environment and it’s free. So, there are loads of benefits from breastfeeding,” she added.

The Swansea Bay midwives work in collaboration with Health and Care Research Wales which, supported by Welsh Government, promotes health and social care research in Wales to improve and save lives.

As well as funding research and development within NHS organisations across Wales, it provides training and promotes research activity and the engagement of health care professionals and participants.

Swansea Bay is fortunate to have a small but enthusiastic group of infant feeding peer supporters – women who have themselves breastfed. They have had additional training but are not healthcare professionals.

Jessica Bevan, mum to baby Trixie, is among those who were assigned to the additional support arm of the trial.

“I really enjoyed being part of the study,” said Jessica, from the Sketty area of Swansea. “Having someone on hand that I could contact if I was really struggling, especially in the early days was really great.

“Some days are better than others, especially when we haven’t had much sleep. But on the whole it has been great.

“Trixie was actually in high dependency for a few days after she was born in June, so we had a delayed start with the feeding as well.

“But with the support of the midwives in the hospital and then our peer supporter, we got there. I feel proud we were able to continue.”

Above: research midwives Joelle Morgan, Sharon Jones, and Lucy Bevan

Another mum on the extra support arm is Rachel Warwick, from Mumbles, whose daughter Evelyn was born in October. She said her peer supporter had been amazing, helping through a number of challenges.

“You can see why some mums do drop off. I think I personally would have really struggled without specialist and peer support,” said Rachel.

“One of the things I found the hardest was people gave such different advice, even across different hospital wards. It’s super-confusing for a new mum.

“Having someone who is knowledgeable, emotionally supportive and who can signpost people in the right way is massive.”

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