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ABSTRACT:  Background: In the United States, since a substantial percentage of mothers are not breastfeeding, research is needed to assess important influences on breastfeeding. The current study assessed the impact on breastfeeding of the perceived attitudes of health care providers about infant feeding.

Methods: A longitudinal mail survey (1993–1994) was administered to 1620 women prenatally through 12 months postpartum; the current study focused on the prenatal and neonatal periods (66% response rate). The outcome variable was failure to breastfeed beyond 6 weeks. Predictor variables were the mother's perceptions of her prenatal physician's and hospital staff's attitudes on infant feeding. Analysis controlled for mother's prenatal breastfeeding intentions, father's feeding preference, and demographic and psychosocial variables.

Results: Forty-one percent of the mothers were not breastfeeding at 6 weeks postpartum. Substantial percentages of mothers reported that physicians and hospital staff expressed a preference for breastfeeding (38% and 57%, respectively), or expressed no preference (61% and 42%, respectively), whereas few favored formula feeding. Adjusted analyses indicated that “no preference” by hospital staff was a significant risk factor for failure to breastfeed beyond 6 weeks. “No preference” by physicians did not significantly influence breastfeeding outcome in these analyses. Further analyses indicated that the effects of perceived hospital staff attitudes were only present for mothers who intended prenatally to breastfeed for 2 months or less.

Conclusions: Many women did not report receiving positive breastfeeding messages from their health caregivers and hospital staff. A perceived neutral attitude from the hospital staff is related to not breastfeeding beyond 6 weeks, especially among mothers who prenatally intended to breastfeed for only a short time. (BIRTH 30:2 June 2003)