Myers, S., Page, A. E. and Emmott, E. H., (2021) The differential role of practical and emotional support in infant feeding experience in the UK? Trans. R. Soc. B 376: 20200034
Social support is a known determinant of breastfeeding behaviour and is generally considered beneficial. However, social support encompasses a myriad of different supportive acts, providing scope for diverse infant feeding outcomes. Given the vulnerability of postpartum mental health, this paper aims to explore both how support prolongs breastfeeding and which forms of support promote the positive experience of all infant feeding. Using survey data collected online from 515 UK mothers with infants aged 0–108 weeks, Cox regression models assessed the relationship between receiving different types of support, support need and breastfeeding duration. Quasi-binomial logistic regression models assessed the relationship between receiving support, infant feeding mode and maternal experience of infant feeding. Rates of negative infant feeding experience indicate the widespread need for support: e.g. 38% of currently, 47% of no longer and 31% of never breastfeeding women found infant feeding stressful. Overall, practical support via infant feeding broadly predicted shorter breastfeeding durations and poorer feeding experience; results in relation to other forms of support were more complex. Our findings indicate different forms of support have different associations with infant feeding experience. They also highlight the wide range of individuals beyond the nuclear family on which postpartum mothers in the UK rely.