A Chinese study compared women’s experiences who delivered before and during the lockdown regarding feeding practices and childbearing. Interestingly, breastfeeding was seemingly positively influenced by the lockdown, the study from Beijing shows.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a tremendous impact on all aspects of life, including pregnant and delivering women and their families. Despite the severity of the virus, the WHO recommended breastfeeding during the pandemic, when taking suitable precautions, as human milk is the optimal nutrition for infants and outweighs the risks for an infection. Nevertheless, the pandemic was a great stressor for the time during and after birth and has impacted breastfeeding practices for many.
The study aimed at investigating the experience of delivery, feeding intentions and actual feeding practices of women who delivered before (BL) and during the implemented lockdown (DL). Also, the support from partners, friends, families and healthcare professionals concerning breastfeeding and other factors, which could have an impact on feeding methods in the first six months of life, were explored.
A questionnaire with 48 questions in online and paper format was distributed among mothers in local clinics in Beijing. It was adapted from the UK New Mum Study to enable comparisons between different countries. The survey included questions on demographics, maternal birth experiences and infant feeding, maternal daily life, the accessible support and maternal mental health. 1807 questionnaires were collected and analysed.
The results show that significantly more mothers who delivered during lockdown indicated that the pandemic had influenced their birth location, compared to those who delivered before lockdown. In DL women, almost 30% indicated a moderate-to-high impact of COVID-19 on their feeding practices (BL group: 24.2%). However, there was no difference in infant feeding intentions between mothers DL and BL.
More mothers mostly breastfed, which is defined as breastfeeding with few non-formula fluids added, during the lockdown compared to those before the lockdown (DL: 68.1% vs. BL: 60.9%). The support from professionals and family on breastfeeding and their own health was ranked as sufficient by both groups. During the lockdown, more mothers were supported by their partners than BL mothers. DL mothers contacted health professionals more often than those BL. Beneficial factors for breastfeeding were a younger age, discussion of infant feeding in online support groups more than four times a week and support from friends and relatives.
Possible reasons for the higher rate of mostly breastfeeding (68.1% vs. 60.9%) during the lockdown in the first six months could be increased time between baby and family as well as reduced visits in the first months. These findings suggest that more intensive and focused time between parents and child could facilitate the initiation of breastfeeding.
Paper available at: BMC Pediatrics
Full list of authors: Jinyue Yu, Mingyue Gao, Zhuang Wei, Jonathan C. K. Wells & Mary Fewtrell