WELSH Crucible is an award-winning [...].
WELSH Crucible is an award-winning programme of personal, professional and leadership development for future research leaders of Wales. Funded by Welsh universities in partnership with the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, there is a high demand for places from researchers who are beginning to demonstrate excellence in health, politics and various other fields.
MY work examines the popular topic of how babies are fed and why it matters.
The World Health Organisation recommends that babies receive just breast milk until they are six months old.
However, few babies in Wales are breastfed past six weeks.
These statistics, alongside my own experiences as a mother, sparked my research interest. I was fascinated by why something that was natural, and that many mothers wanted to do, was so difficult for many and wondered how the situation could be improved.
My research showed that pressure from family, negative public attitudes and lack of support are common barriers to breastfeeding, along with factors such as maternal personality, parenting style and body image. What mothers wanted was more information, encouragement and support to breastfeed, outside of the message that they 'should' breastfeed, which could leave them feeling guilty if they were unable.
My research also examines why early nutrition matters, particularly for child weight. In older children, mothers who strictly control what their child eats are more likely to have children who overeat, are fussy eaters and become overweight, as the child learns to eat for reasons other than hunger.
A responsive feeding style, offering healthy choices but allowing the child control over intake, promotes healthy eating.
I am applying this theory to understand why formula-fed babies are more likely to be overweight compared to breast-fed babies.
My data shows that mothers who breastfeed do so more responsively than those who formula feed; they are less likely to encourage intake or feed to a routine, allowing the baby more control.
This may explain my findings that breastfed babies are less likely to overeat as toddlers. I am also examining similar interactions during weaning.
Traditionally, weaning a baby involves spoon-feeding pureed foods. However, babyled weaning, where babies are allowed to self-feed family foods (eg pasta) from the start of weaning is becoming popular.
My findings show that mothers who babyled wean feed more responsively than those who spoon-feed, allowing their baby more control over how much they eat. Baby-led weaned babies are less likely to be overweight, overeat or be fussy as toddlers. Responsive feeding appears to play an important part in this.
My research has important messages for health policy. First, mothers need more information and encouragement to breastfeed con-fidently. Second, whatever the method of feeding, a responsive early feeding style is important, looking to the baby for hunger cues.
The ultimate aim of my research is therefore to develop useful, supportive interventions to promote breastfeeding and responsive feeding in infancy, not only to improve the population health but also to support new mothers to feel happy feeding their baby.
DR AMY BROWN is an Associate Professor in |Public Health at Swansea University. To contact her email firstname.lastname@example.org