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Child Health – University of Swansea Study Finds Birth Drugs ‘cut breastfeeding’

Posted Oct 27 2009 11:00pm

By Colleen Hurley, RD, Certified Kid’s Nutrition Specialist
It has been said many times that breast is best when it comes to infant feeding and current research continues to support this adage. Despite this knowledge, many women do not breastfeed either for a variety of reasons. One reason, as studies have shown, is that most hospitals do not provide adequate support for mothers who wish to breastfeed. A recent study found that certain post partum medications may also hinder a woman’s ability to nurse.
The Swansea University study suggests that drugs commonly used to treat post delivery bleeding may slow milk production. The study also confirmed that frequently prescribed pain medications induce a similar affect, although the association between painkilling drugs and reduced breastfeeding rates has previously been established.
Researchers examined the data from more than 48,000 women who gave birth in South Wales, finding that the use of the drugs oxytocin or ergometrine to cut the risk of hemorrhage was linked to a 7% decline in the number of women who started breastfeeding within 48 hours after giving birth. Of the women who were not given drugs, 65.5% started nursing within 48 hours.
Among the women given only oxytocin, the breastfeeding rate was 59.1%, while the rate dropped to 56.4% for mothers who were given an additional injection of ergometrine. Researchers believe these medications hinder a women’s milk production leaving mothers to feel frustrated when trying to breastfeed and give up instead of persevering. The UK has long been trying to increase national breastfeeding rates and feel the study may explain their limited success.
The findings are most certainly not absolute and researchers acknowledge that much more research is needed. Lead study researcher Dr. Sue Jordan explains: “The potentially life-saving treatments to prevent bleeding after birth must not be compromised on the basis of this study but further studies are required to establish ways to minimize any effects on breastfeeding rates”. Other obstetric health experts feel the benefits of the medication outweigh the theorized benefits, but all agree that hospitals should be doing more to help mothers establish breastfeeding by providing more education and support.

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