A survey found that new moms in Canada are weaning their infants early instead of feeding them just breast milk for the first six months of life.
That falls below recommendations made by the World Health Organization and endorsed in 2004 by Health Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society.
The authors surveyed 402 pregnant women at three months postpartum and 300 of them again at the six-month mark, and found that though almost 99 percent of the women started out breastfeeding their babies, only 54 percent were still exclusively breastfeeding three months after giving birth. That number dropped again to 15 per cent by six months, in line with the national average, which is also low for breastfeeding.
The results in BMC Pediatrics found that 54 percent of the women had neutral attitudes towards breastfeeding, as did 53 percent of the mothers who fed their infants formula during the first six months after birth. More than half of the women in the study stopped breastfeeding because of their perceptions of milk inadequacy or other problems.
The results also found that women with post-graduate university degrees were 37 percent more likely to breastfeed exclusively for six months as opposed to those without a degree. As well, mothers with previous children were more likely to breastfeed for longer.
"Women's attitudes towards breastfeeding even before the baby is born can predict whether or not moms are going to breastfeed, so it is important that everything from the home environment to public spaces supports nursing moms," said co-author Anna Farmer, an associate professor in nutrition at the University of Alberta in Canada. "We need to address their concerns and misconceptions about breastfeeding, especially young first-time mothers."
Farmer advises new moms to breastfeed for as long as possible, even on a partial basis. "Some breast milk is better than none."
The scholars hope the findings will help doctors, nurses and other health practitioners provide advice to pregnant women with a focus on what may or may not be known about exclusive, long-term breastfeeding, to help promote the practice beyond the first few months after birth.
The paper also recommends more policy provision for nursing rooms in public facilities. "The social environment needs to be more open. Women need spaces where they can breastfeed quietly without feeling ashamed," Farmer said.
Citation: Mahsa Jessri, Anna P Farmer, Katerina Maximova, Noreen D Willows, Rhonda C Bell, APrON Study Team, 'Predictors of exclusive breastfeeding: observations from the Alberta pregnancy outcomes and nutrition (APrON) study', BMC Pediatrics 2013, 13:77 doi:10.1186/1471-2431-13-77