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ABSTRACT: Background: Low breastfeeding rates are an issue of international public health concern. Anecdotal reports suggest very low breastfeeding rates in Asia, but no population-based studies have been conducted in the region. To determine the secular trend in breastfeeding practice in an Asian postindustrialized metropolitan community, we examined data from two population-based birth cohorts of Hong Kong infants in 1987 and 1997.

Methods: Annual population rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration were estimated from the birth cohorts, considering the change in breastfeeding rates over 10 years with correction for sociodemographic and birth characteristics. Factors associated with breastfeeding practice were identified using multivariate logistic regression modeling in a pooled analysis of individual data of both cohorts.

Results: Overall, 26.8 percent of mothers initiated breastfeeding in 1987, and the rate increased to 33.5 percent in 1997. The rate would have been 27.4 percent in 1987 if the distributions of method of delivery, birthweight, birth order, maternal age, education, and employment status had been the same as in 1997. Only 7.6 percent of infants remained on the breast for more than 1 month in 1987 compared with 20.4 percent a decade later. Similarly, the rate for breastfeeding more than 3 months increased from 3.9 to 10.3 percent. Total breastfeeding duration was significantly longer in 1997 than 10 years earlier.

Conclusions: This is the first systematic report of secular variations of breastfeeding rates in Asia. Hong Kong should set higher but realistic goals for breastfeeding that emphasize both initiation and maintenance. Given the wide latitude for improvement in terms of readily modifiable risk factors, such as smoking and cesarean section, these new goals should focus on improving rates in these targeted groups where breastfeeding rates are lowest. (BIRTH 29:3 September 2002)