Ethnicity and past pregnancies determine breastfeeding rates

A University of Manchester study published in the journal BMC Pediatrics has found that ethnicity and the number of previous births can predict the length of time a woman breastfeeds her child.

The researchers say the findings are important since the UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates worldwide. The UK Government recommends that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life based on World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.

Yet, in 2000, the UK ranked the second lowest among 32 countries in a WHO report, with a breastfeeding rate at six months of just 21%. Dr Arpana Verma in the School of Translational Medicine, and colleague at the East Lancashire Primary Care Trust set out to determine the reasons for this, and to examine the effects of maternal factors and hospital infant-feeding practices on breastfeeding.

The group examined the effects of maternal socio-demographic factors, maternal obstetric factors and hospital feeding practices on breastfeeding discontinuation in mothers supported by a peer-support programme.

The results showed that ethnic group, mothers who had already given birth more than once, and hospital infant-feeding practices were the most important factors associated with length of breastfeeding period. However, the study found no significant associations between discontinuing breastfeeding among these mothers supported by the peer-support programme and other recognised factors previously thought to be connected, such as marital status, mode of delivery, time taken to initiate breastfeeding after birth and socio-economic deprivation.

The study revealed that about 50% of the mothers supported breastfed for more than 27 weeks. White mothers were 69% more likely to stop breastfeeding compared with non-White mothers; they also breastfed for shorter durations compared with mothers from other ethnic groups.

Dr Verma said: “The results suggest that infant feeding practices associated with maternal ethnicity and previous experience of having children may be more difficult to influence by peer-support interventions.

“Peer-support programmes, particularly those in multi-ethnic settings, will need to identify the needs of their various client groups in order to appropriately support them to breastfeed longer.”


Notes for editors

'Factors associated with breastfeeding cessation in nursing mothers in a peer support programme in Eastern Lancashire,' by Gabriel Agboado, Elaine Michel, Elaine Jackson and Arpana Verma, is published in BMC Pediatrics

The study used information on mothers supported by Little Angels, a social organisation that provides peer support for nursing mothers in order to help them breastfeed longer. This peer-support programme was a collaborative project based on the WHO Ten Steps for Successful Breastfeeding with the Royal Blackburn Hospital, Lancashire. The effectiveness of peer-support programmes in improving breastfeeding outcomes had already been established.

For further information contact:

Aeron Haworth
Media Relations
Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences
The University of Manchester

Tel: 0161 275 8383
Mob: 07717 881563
Email: aeron.haworth@manchester.ac.uk