Pediatricians- Not a Good Resource for Breastfeeding Information

Pediatricians’ Practices and Attitudes Regarding Breastfeeding Promotion Richard J. Schanler, MD*; Karen G. O’Connor‡; and Ruth A. Lawrence, MD§ Pediatrics 1999;103;e35 ABSTRACT. Objective. Public awareness of the benefitsof breastfeeding is expected to increase during and after the national,federally funded Best Start BreastfeedingPromotion Campaign. It is anticipated that this will resultin more breastfeeding-based interactions between families and pediatricians. The American Academy of Pediatrics conducted a survey of its members to identify their educational needs regarding breastfeeding to assist in the design of appropriate information programs. Method. An eight-page, self-administered questionnaire was sent to 1602 active Fellows of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Results. The response rate was 71%. Breastfeeding, as the exclusive feeding practice for the first month after birth, was recommended by only 65% of responding pediatricians; only 37% recommended breastfeeding for 1 year. A majority of pediatricians agreed with or had a neutral opinion about the statement that breastfeeding and formula- feeding are equally acceptable methods for feeding infants. Reasons given for not recommending breastfeeding included medical conditions with known treatments that did not preclude breastfeeding. The majority of pediatricians (72%) were unfamiliar with the contents of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. The majority of pediatricians had not attended a presentation on breastfeeding management in the previous 3 years; most said they wanted more education on breastfeeding management. Conclusion. Pediatricians have significant educational needs in the area of breastfeeding management. This study is one that is actually quite humorous to those of us who work with women who are nursing and have an issue that takes them to the average pediatrician. We understand not only the lack of information or education a pediatrician has regarding breastfeeding, but also the level of influence they still have on the breastfeeding relationship. Ironic that a non medical issue is one that parents still seek out medical opinions for. This study cited that even though the big boy club of the AAP themselves promote breastfeeding as the best form of infant nutrition and encourage the infant to be fed that way, the very members of this association are failing miserably at conveying correct information to their patients parents. If the hospitals are not screwing up the relationship fairly quickly in the postpartum period, then the doctors then do their own lack of encouragement. This study was timed to ascertain the physicians influence on breastfeeding as federally funded Best Start Breastfeeding Promotion Campaign was launched. “This campaign is targeted initially at 10 states to raise public awareness of breastfeeding through pre- and postnatal parent counseling and media promotion. Increased public awareness is expected to increase breastfeeding-related interactions between families and physicians.” They wanted to know how many of the doctors in the areas were going to be supportive of this endeavor and if they needed to do anything to help make this more likely. The good news is this study was to “to assess breastfeeding attitudes, knowledge, and management skills of pediatricians, as well as awareness of their hospitals’ breastfeeding promotion activities. Results from this survey are expected to help in the design of appropriate breastfeeding education programs for physicians.” The bad news is the majority of the doctors definitely need more education in this area! The conducted this study by first giving a survey to the physicians- mostly located in urban areas. The solo and group practices had better breastfeeding initiation and continuation than the clinic physicians. Tragically, only 65% of the pediatricians’ recommended exclusive breastfeeding to new parents during the early weeks of their infants’ births. 13% recommended formula supplementation while actually 2% said formula feeding was ideal. Although the AAP takes a stand on duration of exclusive breastfeeding being recommended for at least six months only 63% made any recommendation regarding duration. And only 31% made the recommendation that AAP suggested. But to be commended are the 61% who suggested the ideal time of at least one year. Establishing breastfeeding and bonding time with the infant in the early hours after birth is a known factor in helping to increase breastfeeding success. Yet the doctors varied in their initial recommendation to do so. Only 44% recommended that the mom initiate breastfeeding in the first half hour after the birth. Only 59% suggested that demand feeding be established. Almost a quarter of the physicians were not opposed to formula or water be given to the breastfed infant. And keeping the mom and baby together by rooming in was equally divided in the study. The use of pacifiers was only discouraged by a fourth of the doctors until breastfeeding was established. And the introduction of solids was not at the AAP recommendation either. Many recommended solids at a much younger age than 6 months. As this study states, “These infant feeding practices are known to impede successful breastfeeding and may be unnecessary.” It was no surprise that in an office several people could be called on for phone consultations to assist new parents with breastfeeding questions. Only 76% of the time it was the doctors- who have proven they were not following suggested guidelines. Fewer than a quarter actually had lactation consultants. And few even knew how or if the staff that supplied information had ever been trained in the area of breastfeeding. Is it no wonder that misinformation was being handed out? Only 58% of the actual physicians themselves had ever had any education regarding breastfeeding. The younger physicians (under 45 years of age) were more likely than the older physicians. And the female physicians had more training than their male counterparts. And yet although they mostly said they wanted to learn more and had not had sufficient training, 77% said they felt competent to manage common breastfeeding problems. Based on their lack of training or education in the area, it makes you wonder other areas they feel competent managing where they may also lack training and expertise. It is no wonder that only 60% of the pediatricians had children of their own who were breastfed! Those with no personal experience were more likely to not recommend breastfeeding if the moms had common problems like breast or nipple problems- this was at 37%! It is also no wonder that few hospitals are meeting the standard of Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative since 72% of the doctors were unfamiliar with this initiative as well as the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding statement. How can they be supportive and help promote these ideals if they are unaware of what they recommend? More then half of the doctors were unsure if there was a written policy regarding breastfeeding and if there was one what was stated within it. The study stated, “These data suggest that the lack of clear recommendations may lead to confusion when parents question physicians about breastfeeding.” I find this an understatement. It also uncovered that very few pediatricians were even seeing their patients’ parents prenatally- where good information regarding breastfeeding could be conveyed. The study was effective in uncovering the strong need to get the pediatricians on board with promoting breastfeeding. Helping parents prepare, initiate, be successful and continue to breastfeed is certainly an area where pediatricians can make a huge difference. But we need to get them up to speed on how to do this and it begins with more education. Teresa Howard, CD (DONA), CLD, CLE, CCCE (CAPPA), CHBE