Emotional and informational social support from health visitors and breastfeeding outcomes in the UK
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Description: Social support in all forms is essential in maintaining breast/chest-feeding and helping to improve general infant feeding experience among parents. With breastfeeding durations notably short in the UK, the question of the effectiveness and quality of support for infant feeding comes to the fore. Current literature suggests that together inadequate informational support and poor/negative emotional support can lead to poor breastfeeding experiences and higher early cessation rates. Health visitors (community public health nurses) have been positioned as one of the primary providers of breast/chest-feeding support; therefore, this analysis tests the hypothesis that emotional support moderates the relationship between informational support and breastfeeding duration and infant feeding experience among UK mothers. Cox and binary logistic regression models are run on data from 565 UK mothers, collected as part of a 2017-2018 retrospective online UK survey on social support and infant feeding. Informational support, compared to emotional support, was a less important predictor of both breastfeeding duration and experience. Supportive emotional support with unhelpful or absent informational support was associated with the lowest hazard of breastfeeding cessation before 3 months. Results for breastfeeding experience followed similar trends, where positive experience was associated with supportive emotional and unhelpful informational support. Negative experiences were less consistent; however, a higher probability of negative experience was found when both types of support were reported as unsupportive. Our study suggests the impact of informational support on breastfeeding provided by health visitors is influenced by emotional support. Improving resources and training to ensure health visitors are facilitated to provide enhanced emotional support, for example by lowering caseloads to allow for personalised care, may improve breastfeeding outcomes.