A new study by academics in Trinity College Dublin has found that there is a strong positive relationship between planned birth at home and breast feeding: Mothers who gave birth at home, were twice as likely to breastfeed successfully than moms who birthed in a hospital. The research involved the largest population cohorts comprehensively examined to date for an association between breast feeding outcomes and place of birth in low risk pregnancies.

The study included over 17,500 women from the UK Millennium Cohort Study and 10,500 women from the ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ study. This is what they found:

  • Giving birth at home, is significantly associated with breastfeeding immediately after birth. Also, with exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months.

  • Moms who gave birth at home, were more likely to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months than mothers who chose to give birth at hospitals (22% vs 9%). The World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.

Through research, the study suggested a number of potential reasons for the strong association between home birth and breastfeeding. Based on the collected data, this is what they found:

  • With every birth option, the level of support and type of care offered, will be very different. At a home birth, care is typically midwife-led as opposed to gynecologist or obstetricians-led in hospitals. After birth while recovering in a hospital, multiple health professionals are involved in the care and breastfeeding process. Potentially providing unpredictable and inconsistent input. They are all trained at different levels related to lactation, with midwives typically receiving more education in this area. The midwife who led your birth at home, will also be able to offer ongoing support with breastfeeding.

  • At home, you will have a very comfortable and “homely” environment. The non-clinical setting can facilitate immediate and prolonged skin-to-skin contact right after birth. This is widely considered to have a positive effect on the initiation of breastfeeding and mother-infant bonding.

  • Interventions such as forceps or vacuum-assisted delivery that occur more frequently during labor in hospital may be stressful, and stress during birth has been linked to stalled breast feeding. Similarly, hospital births are associated with greater usage of pain-relieving medications, which can cause a lack of energy and enthusiasm in the infant. This will then delay milk production from the mother.

  • Hospital births have been associated with formula supplementation. This may be due to busy, understaffed clinical settings, where formula feeding may be found to be a more convenient solution to feeding problems than diagnosis and treatment of breast-feeding issues. It has been shown that formula supplementation in the early postnatal period, reduces the likelihood of exclusive breast feeding and overall duration of breast feeding.

Principal researcher on the study, Associate Professor of Epidemiology in Trinity, Dr Lina Zgaga, said: “The key question that this work raises is: “When breastfeeding is so strongly recommended across the board by the medical profession, what causes lower rates of breastfeeding following hospital births? Hopefully this research can help us learn from the home birth model and identify the changes that could be implemented in standard hospital-based perinatal care to encourage and facilitate breastfeeding.”

Seek advice from a lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist if you’re still having difficulties after several weeks. They will assess you, and may advise on what you can do differently. Be sure to find someone who you feel, truly wants to help you achieve success.

The research was published in the leading international journal BMJ Open.