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Mothers Who Use IVF Are Less Likely to Breastfeed

Update Date: Sep 20, 2013 12:30 PM EDT

Women who use IVF and who have cesareans before going in to labor are significantly less likely to breastfeed their children, according to a new study.

Researchers said the latest findings highlight the importance building confidence in women to breastfeed, especially those who have had an assisted conception and cesarean birth prior to labor.

"We hope this new data will encourage midwives, lactation consultants and doctors to provide women in this situation with additional assistance to help them establish breastfeeding," lead author Professor Jane Fisher, Jean Hailes Professor of Women's Health at Monash University in Australia, said in a news release.

"These are important findings and show that women using assisted reproductive technology (ART) to become pregnant need to be aware that they may find breastfeeding difficult, and so ask for support and help quickly after their babies are born," added co-researcher John McBain, an associate professor and senior fertility specialist at Melbourne IVF.

The latest study involved 619 women who conceived naturally or using ART. Overall, 37.2 percent of women had cesarean birth. Researchers found that women who conceived through ART had twice the number of cesareans prior to labor compared to women have conceived naturally.

While more than 95 percent of women wanted to breastfeed for at least six months, only 63.6 percent of women who used ART were exclusively breastfeeding compared to 76.5 percent of women who conceived naturally.

Four months after their baby's birth, 53.8 percent of women who conceived naturally were exclusively breastfeeding compared to only 41.3 percent of women who conceived using ART.

"We think there is something about going into labor that assists the onset of lactation - people speculate that it is to do with the release of the chemical, oxytocin," Fisher said.

"If you don't have labor the onset of lactation might be delayed and that can be very anxiety-arousing. We think it's especially so for women who conceived with ART because they might already have experienced loss and be especially concerned about their baby's health and wellbeing," she explained.

"So even though women in these circumstances intend to breastfeed, when lactation is delayed they may worry about their baby being hungry and then introduce formula very early. After that, it becomes difficult to establish breastfeeding," Fisher said.

Researchers said that latest findings emphasize the importance of strategies to "increase women's confidence in their ability to breastfeed" and that this requires not only sensitivity to their needs, but also the "removal of obstacles to breastfeeding within the health system".

"Given that breastfeeding is so strongly advocated by health authorities, women need to be aware of these adverse effects and speak to their IVF clinician and their obstetrician," Fisher said.

"They should also be aware that if they conceive with assisted reproductive technologies and have a caesarean without going in to labor then they could find breastfeeding harder and so should ask for extra support to help them in those early days after their baby is born," she concluded.

The findings are published in the journal Acta Paediatrica.

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