To determine whether postnatal 'hands off' care by midwives on positioning and attachment of the newborn baby improves breast-feeding duration.
Mothers were randomised at the first postnatal feed to receive either care by a midwife trained in the experimental protocol or by a control midwife undertaking routine care.
Eight wards in four English Midlands hospitals.
370 primiparous mothers with term babies who intended to breast feed, and could sit out of bed to do so.
Experimental protocol of verbal-only advice on positioning and attachment, delivered at the first postnatal ward feed compared with routine care by a qualified midwife.
Duration of breast feeding up to 17 weeks as assessed by diaries and interviews with mothers and protocol adherence from self-completed checklist by the midwife. The mothers' self-reported experience of care and support before, during and after delivery were assessed at 6 weeks, and feeding outcomes and employment status at 17 weeks.
Experimental group mothers more often held the baby across their lap and received 'hands off advice', but fewer babies in the experimental than control groups attached and fed: 59% (106/180) vs. 67% (118/175), p=0.1. No significant differences were found in the numbers of mothers breast feeding at 6 or 17 weeks in the experimental and control groups (stopped exclusive breast feeding: 76% (130/172) vs. 77% (126/163) at 6 weeks; 96% (167/174) vs. 96% (161/168) at 17 weeks; odds ratio 1.02, 95% CI 0.77 to 1.22; p=0.8; stopped any breast feeding: 35% (61/172) vs. 32% (53/167) at 6 weeks; 63% (109/173) vs. 60% (101/167) at 17 weeks; odds ratio 1.10, 0.84 to 1.45; p=0.5). There were no significant differences in the incidence of problems with breast feeding and care experienced by mothers before or during hospitalisation (other than at the first postnatal ward feed), nor after discharge home.
No significant beneficial effect was found on breast-feeding duration of the verbal- only advice on positioning and attachment, perhaps because aspects of the intervention are already within routine UK practice. Other care practices at subsequent feeds may negate benefits of care at earlier feeds. 'Hands off' care at the first feed may be less important to subsequent feeding than achieving a first feed under supervision in the postnatal ward.
Midwives can be trained in a 4-hr workshop to achieve improved knowledge of 'hands off' positioning and attachment care, and these can be translated into clinical practice. Future studies should differentiate the elements of the care that are effective in achieving postnatal feeds, and apply this advice consistently at successive feeds.