The World Health Organization recommends that all infants should be fed exclusively on breast milk from birth to six months of age. Breastfeeding is supported by extensive evidence for short-term and long-term health benefits, for both mother and baby. Babies who are not fully breastfed for the first three to four months are more likely to suffer health problems such as gastroenteritis, respiratory and ear infections, urinary tract infections, allergies and diabetes mellitus. Practical benefits include savings on buying artificial formulas, particularly where they are not subsidised. Yet many women choose to bottle feed their babies. Reasons include personal and social biases against breastfeeding such as attitudes of family and close friends, attitudes to breastfeeding in public and employment practices.
This review showed that health education and peer support interventions can result in some improvements in the number of women beginning to breastfeed. Studies were of low-income women in the USA, where baseline breastfeeding rates are typically low.
Eleven randomised controlled trials were included. Eight trials involving 1553 women contributed to the data. Five studies with 582 women on low incomes in the USA showed breastfeeding education clearly increased breastfeeding rates compared to providing routine care. One trial with 165 women showed peer support for women considering breastfeeding also increased breastfeeding rates. Needs-based, one-to-one, informal education or support sessions, delivered either before or before and after the birth by a trained breastfeeding professional or peer counsellor, was the most effective intervention among women of different ethnicity and feeding intention in three studies. The one evaluation of hospital breastfeeding promotion packs compared to formula-company produced materials about infant feeding showed this intervention to be ineffective. Approximately 40% of women in both groups reported receipt of formula company promotion items from sources other than their obstetric provider.