Support for healthy breastfeeding mothers with healthy term babies

Anna Gavine*, Shona C. Shinwell, Phyll Buchanan, Albert Farre, Angela Wade, Fiona Lynn, Joyce Marshall, Sara E. Cumming, Shadrach Dare, Alison McFadden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: There is extensive evidence of important health risks for infants and mothers related to not breastfeeding. In 2003, the World Health Organization recommended that infants be breastfed exclusively until six months of age, with breastfeeding continuing as an important part of the infant’s diet until at least two years of age. However, current breastfeeding rates in many countries do not reflect this recommendation.

Objectives: 1. To describe types of breastfeeding support for healthy breastfeeding mothers with healthy term babies.2. To examine the effectiveness of different types of breastfeeding support interventions in terms of whether they offered only breastfeeding support or breastfeeding support in combination with a wider maternal and child health intervention ('breastfeeding plus' support). 3. To examine the effectiveness of the following intervention characteristics on breastfeeding support: a. type of support (e.g. face‐to‐face, telephone, digital technologies, group or individual support, proactive or reactive); b. intensity of support (i.e. number of postnatal contacts); c. person delivering the intervention (e.g. healthcare professional, lay person); d. to examine whether the impact of support varied between high‐ and low‐and middle‐income countries.

Search methods: We searched Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth's Trials Register (which includes results of searches of CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL,, WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP)) (11 May 2021) and reference lists of retrieved studies.

Selection criteria: Randomised or quasi‐randomised controlled trials comparing extra support for healthy breastfeeding mothers of healthy term babies with usual maternity care. Support could be provided face‐to‐face, over the phone or via digital technologies. All studies had to meet the trustworthiness criteria.

Data collection and analysis: We used standard Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth methods. Two review authors independently selected trials, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias and study trustworthiness. The certainty of the evidence was assessed using the GRADE approach.

Main results:This updated review includes 116 trials of which 103 contribute data to the analyses. In total more than 98,816 mother‐infant pairs were included. Moderate‐certainty evidence indicated that 'breastfeeding only' support probably reduced the number of women stopping breastfeeding for all primary outcomes: stopping any breastfeeding at six months (Risk Ratio (RR) 0.93, 95% Confidence Interval (CI) 0.89 to 0.97); stopping exclusive breastfeeding at six months (RR 0.90, 95% CI 0.88 to 0.93); stopping any breastfeeding at 4‐6 weeks (RR 0.88, 95% CI 0.79 to 0.97); and stopping exclusive breastfeeding at 4‐6 (RR 0.83 95% CI 0.76 to 0.90). Similar findings were reported for the secondary breastfeeding outcomes except for any breastfeeding at two months and 12 months when the evidence was uncertain if 'breastfeeding only' support helped reduce the number of women stopping breastfeeding. The evidence for 'breastfeeding plus' was less consistent. For primary outcomes there was some evidence that 'breastfeeding plus' support probably reduced the number of women stopping any breastfeeding (RR 0.94, 95% CI 0.91 to 0.97, moderate‐certainty evidence) or exclusive breastfeeding at six months (RR 0.79, 95% CI 0.70 to 0.90). 'Breastfeeding plus' interventions may have a beneficial effect on reducing the number of women stopping exclusive breastfeeding at 4‐6 weeks, but the evidence is very uncertain (RR 0.73, 95% CI 0.57 to 0.95). The evidence suggests that 'breastfeeding plus' support probably results in little to no difference in the number of women stopping any breastfeeding at 4‐6 weeks (RR 0.94, 95% CI 0.82 to 1.08, moderate‐certainty evidence). For the secondary outcomes, it was uncertain if 'breastfeeding plus' support helped reduce the number of women stopping any or exclusive breastfeeding at any time points. There were no consistent findings emerging from the narrative synthesis of the non‐breastfeeding outcomes (maternal satisfaction with care, maternal satisfaction with feeding method, infant morbidity, and maternal mental health), except for a possible reduction of diarrhoea in intervention infants. We considered the overall risk of bias of trials included in the review was mixed. Blinding of participants and personnel is not feasible in such interventions and as studies utilised self‐report breastfeeding data, there is also a risk of bias in outcome assessment. We conducted meta‐regression to explore substantial heterogeneity for the primary outcomes using the following categories: person providing care; mode of delivery; intensity of support; and income status of country. It is possible that moderate levels (defined as 4‐8 visits) of 'breastfeeding only' support may be associated with a more beneficial effect on exclusive breastfeeding at 4‐6 weeks and six months. 'Breastfeeding only' support may also be more effective in reducing women in low‐ and middle‐income countries (LMICs) stopping exclusive breastfeeding at six months compared to women in high‐income countries (HICs). However, no other differential effects were found and thus heterogeneity remains largely unexplained. The meta‐regression suggested that there were no differential effects regarding person providing support or mode of delivery, however, power was limited.

Authors' : When 'breastfeeding only' support is offered to women, the duration and in particular, the exclusivity of breastfeeding is likely to be increased. Support may also be more effective in reducing the number of women stopping breastfeeding at three to four months compared to later time points. For 'breastfeeding plus' interventions the evidence is less certain. Support may be offered either by professional or lay/peer supporters, or a combination of both. Support can also be offered face‐to‐face, via telephone or digital technologies, or a combination and may be more effective when delivered on a schedule of four to eight visits. Further work is needed to identify components of the effective interventions and to deliver interventions on a larger scale.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD001141
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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