Background It is well recognized that breast milk is the best form of nutrition for babies. However, many women do not breastfeed or give up soon after birth. Some report feeling unsupported in the post-natal period and many stop breastfeeding earlier than they would have wished. This study aimed to estimate the separate effects of midwifery factors in the overall context of sociodemographic and clinical influences on breastfeeding.
Methods Data from a national survey conducted in England in 2006 were used. Questionnaires were sent to a random sample of 4800 new mothers (63% response rate). Questions relating to infant feeding allowed calculation of rates of initiation of breastfeeding and rates of exclusive and any breastfeeding in the first few days and at 3 months. Univariate analyses were carried out to estimate the associations between sociodemographic, clinical and midwifery factors and breastfeeding. Logistic regression was used to estimate the specific effects of midwifery factors, while adjusting for other significant variables.
Results The most powerful explanatory factor was antenatal feeding intention. Maternal age, absence of clinical problems in the baby and a short post-natal stay were important in the early days. At 3 months, breastfeeding was associated with sociodemographic and intrapartum factors. At all stages, breastfeeding was significantly associated with either receiving consistent advice, practical help and/or active support and encouragement from midwives.
Conclusions The antenatal decision about infant feeding is the most powerful predictor of infant feeding behaviour. Some sociodemographic and clinical factors are also important influences on breastfeeding. However, after adjusting for these, midwifery factors are still influential.