(HealthDay News) – The recommendation to exclusively breastfeed for six months after birth is unrealistic and too rigid for many mothers, representing a clash between idealism and reality.

Pat Hoddinott, PhD, from the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom, and colleagues conducted face-to-face interviews regarding breastfeeding practices with 36 pregnant women, 26 partners, eight mothers, one sister, and two health care professionals approximately every four weeks from the last trimester of pregnancy to six months after birth.

The researchers found that participants reported family well-being as more important than the theoretical long-term health benefits of breastfeeding, particularly at pivotal points where changes in feeding behavior represented a conflict between the ideal and the reality. These pivotal points typically occurred in the early weeks after birth, around the introduction of solids, and at crisis times, such as illness. Families perceived that stopping breastfeeding or introduction of solids was the only way to restore family well-being. Feeding education was perceived as unrealistic and rigid; families wanted the balance to move from antenatal theory toward practical help immediately after birth and when solids are being considered. Family-oriented interactive discussions were preferred over checklist-style encounters focused on breastfeeding.

“Adopting idealistic global policy goals like exclusive breastfeeding until six months as individual goals for women is unhelpful,” Hoddinott and colleagues conclude. “More attention to the diverse values, meanings and emotions around infant feeding within families could help to reconcile health ideals with reality.”

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