Many governments around the world endorse the World Health Organization recommendations to do so.
But the authors of a new study says more realistic, achievable goals could help, particularly in countries that struggle to meet breastfeeding rates.
Their conclusions are based on more than 200 interviews with 36 women, all but one of who planned to breastfeed.
Many said they wanted a greater focus on the emotional issues, with opportunities for partners to be involved in these discussions, rather than purely on the technicalities of breastfeeding.
Gail Johnson, RCM education and professional development advisor, said: ‘Midwives have a significant role in advising and supporting women’s care based on the best possible evidence.
‘The evidence to support and promote the value of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months remains unchanged.
‘Breastfeeding should not be seen as an idealistic target, it should be part of the continuum of care for babies.
‘Midwives and other health professionals have an on-going responsibility to support parents in caring for their babies and breastfeeding is a part of this.
‘Many women successfully exclusively breastfeed their babies, however, for some families this isn’t what they choose to do; it is about personal choice which must be made based on the best evidence available and what is right for each family.
‘It is important that women and their partners receive the most appropriate help and support in caring for their baby and the RCM appreciates that a shortage of midwives can leave some women feeling unsupported with breastfeeding.
‘The long-term health benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and the baby will be lost without continued support and promotion of breastfeeding by midwives and other health professionals.’
The interviews for the study were carried out at roughly four-week intervals, to find out participants’ views on infant feeding.
They were conducted from the last month of pregnancy until six months after birth, and looked at the impact feeding practice had on the wider family.
As well as the mothers, close relatives were interviewed.
The authors recommend providing opportunities for ‘realistic, interactive discussions with appropriately skilled healthcare providers and peers before and after birth’.
They also suggest that healthcare professionals should adopt a family-centred, narrative approach.
The paper is published in the journal BMJ Open
and can be viewed here