December 5, 2005

Women in US need more breastfeeding support

By Anthony J. Brown, MD

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A number of factors influence whether a women will give up breastfeeding before the baby can derive any health benefits from it, new research suggests -- but with more encouragement and help many more women might persevere.

Numerous studies have documented the health benefits of breastfeeding for the infant, such as a decreased risk of upper respiratory infections and possibly even a reduced risk of dying. Still, many women forgo breastfeeding altogether or stop it after just a few days or weeks, despite recommendations that a few months of breastfeeding is needed to see a benefit.

To determine why some women stop breastfeeding early, Dr. Indu B. Ahluwalia and colleagues, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, analyzed data for more than 31,000 women from the Pregnancy Risk Assessment and Monitoring System, which includes information from 31 states and New York City.

Thirty-two percent of women did not attempt to breastfeed and 51 percent breastfed for longer than 4 weeks, the researchers report in the journal Pediatrics. Another 13 percent stopped within the first month and 4 percent stopped within the first week, the report indicates.

Mothers who were older and/or who had adequate socioeconomic resources were more likely to breastfeed for longer than 4 weeks, but perhaps the strongest determinant was simply a interest in breastfeeding before the baby was born.

"The majority of women who say they're going to breastfeed before delivery, do, in fact, initiate breastfeeding," Ahluwalia told Reuters Health. Such women were also more likely to continue breastfeeding for recommended durations than women who did not plan to breastfeed, she added.

Commonly cited reasons for stopping breastfeeding early included sore nipples, insufficient milk supply, infant difficulties, and the perception that the infant was not satiated.

"Discussions between healthcare providers and patients about breastfeeding need to start in the prenatal period, but support after delivery is also important to encourage breastfeeding" for the recommended durations, Dr. Ahluwalia emphasized.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, December 2005.