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Keywords:

  • Infection;
  • Australian Aborigines;
  • infants;
  • children;
  • breastfeeding;
  • hospitalisation

Abstract

Objective: To examine infant feeding associations with parent-reported infections and hospitalisations in Western Australian Aboriginal infants and children.

Method: Families in Western Australia with children under 18 years of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent were included. A stratified multi-stage sample using an area-based sampling frame was compiled. Survey weights produced unbiased estimates for the population of families with Aboriginal children. Data were collected on demographic variables, maternal and infant characteristics and parent-reported recurring chest, ear and gastrointestinal infections. The data were linked to the Hospital Morbidity System to identify hospitalisations for infections for the same children.

Results: Twenty-seven per cent of Aboriginal children were breastfed for less than three months. Parent-reported recurring chest, ear and gastrointestinal infections were reported in 47% of the 0–3 age group. Hospitalisations due to upper respiratory and gastrointestinal infections were most common in the older children, but wheezing lower respiratory infections were most common in younger children. Breastfeeding for less than three months and birth weight less than 2,500 g were risk factors for parent-reported chest infections and hospitalisations for upper and wheezing lower respiratory infections (p<0.05).

Conclusion: Rates of parent-reported chest infections and hospitalisations due to these infections continue to be high in Aboriginal infants and children. Because breastfeeding for less than three months and low birth weight are risk factors for these infections, interventions to reduce the prevalence of low birth weight and to increase breastfeeding rates should be primary health goals in Aboriginal communities for the benefits of Aboriginal infants and children.