Tackling maternal and child obesity through tailored breastfeeding support

South LondonReproductive Health and Childbirth
Start Date: 1 Apr 2016 End Date: 31 Mar 2018

CLAHRC South London has adopted a new project to work together with pregnant women who are obese or overweight, and clinicians to co-design a project that will support women to start and continue to exclusively breastfeed their babies for up to six months. The project aims to help women to breastfeed successfully which could help with their postnatal weight management and potentially prevent the development of obesity in their children.

South London has a higher than national average proportion of children classed as obese and high rates of women who are overweight or obese (around 50%) at the start of pregnancy. It includes some of the most economically deprived, ethnically and socially diverse boroughs in England. 

Breastfeeding can help women lose weight after having a baby and there is increasing evidence that being breastfed can protect against child and adolescent obesity. However, evidence from high income countries such as the UK also shows that obese or overweight women are less likely to start breastfeeding, or are more likely to stop early, which can have a negative effect on their own health and introduce complementary foods, which can have a negative effect on their baby’s health. 

There are a number of reasons for this including: mechanical - difficulty latching a baby on to the breast; psychological - lack of confidence; cultural - few close friends / relatives who breastfed and who can offer support and encouragement, or poor body image. 

Furthermore, midwives and health visitors questioned prior to developing the study do not feel sufficiently skilled, or able to access appropriate guidance to support overweight or obese women to breastfeed because of reasons including the sensitivity of the topic or their fear of creating a sense of blame if a woman does not breastfeed.

Professor Debra Bick, who is leading the study which will recruit women who book for their maternity care at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, says: ‘We want to identify “what works” to empower midwives and health visitors to support women in our target population to start and continue to successfully breastfeed.’

The outcomes and learning from the project have the potential to be implemented across CLAHRC South London’s NHS maternity services. The project has been funded by the Burdett Trust for Nursing. It was adopted in February 2016.  

Professor Debra Bick