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Keywords:

  • breastfeeding;
  • intervention;
  • midwifery;
  • nurses;
  • nursing;
  • peer support;
  • systematic review

Aims and objectives.  The objective of this systematic review was to describe peer support interventions supporting breastfeeding during pregnancy and the postnatal period.

Background.  Breastfeeding is an effective way to promote infants’ health. Including a peer support element in breastfeeding programmes is a highly successful way to increase breastfeeding.

Design.  A systematic literature review.

Methods.  The review was conducted from the CINAHL, MEDLINE and the Cochrane Library databases from year 2000 until the end of February 2008. According to the inclusion criteria, the adopted studies focused on breastfeeding, breastfeeding support interventions and education of healthy mothers and infants from the perspective of mothers or family members. Additionally, the studies had to be conducted in Europe, North America, Australia or New Zealand to meet the criteria. Articles combining peer support and professional support were also included in the study.

Results.  The results indicated that during pregnancy, hospitalisation and the postnatal period, individual support and education were used most commonly. Peer support was strongly associated with the postnatal period. The combination of professional support and peer support by trained and experienced peer supporters was effective in ensuring the continuation of breastfeeding.

Conclusions.  Only continuous breastfeeding support produces effective results. Diverse types of interventions are needed during different phases of motherhood. The role of peer support is most important during the postnatal period. If professional support is not available for mothers, peer support could provide an alternative worth considering.

Relevance to clinical practice.  Professionals require breastfeeding education to act as breastfeeding supporters as well as the support of their organisations in this work. Moreover, professionals need to gain knowledge of the role of peer support regarding the efficient combination of professional support and peer support to increase breastfeeding.