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Addressing the learning deficit in breastfeeding: strategies for change

Authors


Mary J. Renfrew, Mother and Infant Research Unit, Department of Health Sciences, University of York, Heslington, York YO10 5DD, UK. E-mail: mjr505@york.ac.uk

Abstract

This paper summarizes the findings of the learning needs assessment described in this issue. Limitations and strengths are discussed. The paper describes a national, multi-sectoral, multidisciplinary picture. Our respondents may over-represent those with an interest in breastfeeding; if so, the true picture may be even more problematic than described here. Major deficits were identified in the knowledge and skills of practitioners from all backgrounds and all sectors. Many professionals report poor knowledge about breastfeeding and have low levels of confidence and clinical competence. Organizational constraints and barriers to effective education and practice include fragmentation of care and education, lack of facilities, and a low priority being given to breastfeeding. There is a range of current educational provision, although not all is fit for purpose. Voluntary organizations seem to have higher standards than do some current professional learning opportunities. Preferred methods of training include practical observation and mentorship, volunteer counsellor involvement in training programmes, as well as self-study and online opportunities. Recommendations include: a funded, mandatory, interagency and multidisciplinary approach; appropriate content; support at local and national levels; breastfeeding education to be included in clinical governance and audit mechanisms; and further research and evaluation to examine optimum ways of providing education and training. Organizational barriers could be addressed through a public health policy and evidence-based approach.

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