Valerie Gommon Midwife’s Blog

Interesting study effect of drugs on breastfeeding

Posted on: September 3, 2009

I have just found an interesting article which says that drugs which are often routinely given to women immediately after birth could reduce their chances of breastfeeding.

www.walesonline.co.uk/news/health-news/2009/09/02/life-saving-childbirth-drugs-could-reduce-ability-to-breastfeed-91466-24586076/

The article is so interesting that I will copy it complete below.  My only query regarding the research is to question whether women who choose not to have syntocinon/syntometrine/ergometrine (the drugs routinely used to speed delivery of the placenta, and which many believe help to prevent haemorrhage) may be better informed – perhaps choosing homebirths or waterbirths where the use of these drugs is less frequent – and therefore more likely to breastfeed.

It should also be pointed out that whilst the vast majority of doctors and midwives believe the use of drugs to deliver the placenta to be beneficial there are others who do not believe that they should be used routinely (see Delivering Your Placenta www.aims.org.uk).

“A study of 48,000 new Welsh mothers has suggested the drugs, which can be life-saving, could also be linked to reduced breastfeeding rates.

Researchers from Swansea University believe the drugs, which are used to prevent bleeding after childbirth, may be the reason why so few mums breastfeed, with only 45% continuing within a week of the birth.

The analysis of the records of women who gave birth in South Wales found the use of the blood-clotting and other drugs were associated with a 7% decline in the proportion who started breastfeeding within 48 hours of giving birth.

Researchers believe the drugs may impede a woman’s ability to produce milk and say new mothers may need greater time and support from midwives if they wished to breastfeed their baby.

Dr Sue Jordan of the university’s school of health science, who led the study, said: “Our results highlight the need for further research and clinical trials. What we would like to see is extra help for new mothers trying to establish breastfeeding by making sure to allow enough time for the effect of drugs given in labour to subside.

“Our new findings could contribute to meeting the government targets of reaching that extra 2% of women breastfeeding per year.”

The study is the second link the research team has drawn between breastfeeding rates and drugs given during or after labour. Their previous research confirmed the link between epidurals and reduced breastfeeding rates which prompted revised guidelines for the NHS on the use of the drugs in labour.

Dr Jordan, however, supported the current medical practice regarding the use of the drugs saying: “The potentially life- saving treatments to prevent bleeding after birth must not be compromised on the basis of this study, but further studies are required to establish ways to minimise any effects on breastfeeding rates.”

Of the women involved in the study, who all gave birth between 1989 and 1999, 65.5% of those who did not receive drugs to prevent bleeding after the birth started breastfeeding their baby within 48 hours of giving birth.

This dropped to 59.1% among those given an injection of oxytocin, a hormone that stimulates contractions and plays a natural role in labour, and to 56.4% of women given an additional injection of ergometrine, given to stop bleeding after the birth.

In the study 79% of women received either oxytocin, ergometrine or both, as is routine in the NHS.

“The decline of 6-7% in those being breastfed could lead to up to 50,000 fewer British babies being breastfed every year than might otherwise be possible,” said Dr Jordan.

UK health surveys claim the results of bottle-feeding can lead to obesity and asthma as youngsters are not getting the natural benefits of a mother’s milk. Bottle-feeding has also been linked to an increased number of mothers being affected by breast cancer.

Rosemary Dodds of the National Childbirth Trust said: “Women need more support to start breastfeeding soon after giving birth and this study adds weight to that. A lot of women are not given enough information about the medications that might be given to them during childbirth, and women at low risk of bleeding may not need to take these drugs.”

Helen Rogers, leader of the Royal College of Midwives in Wales, said: “We welcome studies like this as it shows the important part midwives can play in breastfeeding. Unfortunately, with staffing levels on maternity units, midwives are looking after mums who need more medical care and attention rather than those who have breastfeeding problems and have no other ill effects from the birth.

“Also, mums are now keen to leave hospital, sometimes within six hours of the birth, and as a result they lose the midwife contact and support they may need if they have problems breastfeeding.”

Dr Jordan said the next step in her research was to seek funding for further research and clinical trials to measure the real effect of medications given during labour and the uptake of breastfeeding.”

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