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J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2002 Jan-Feb;31(1):12-32.

Breastfeeding initiation and duration: a 1990-2000 literature review.

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Faculty of Nursing, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



To review the literature on breastfeeding initiation and duration and to delineate effective strategies for promoting positive breastfeeding behaviors.


Computerized searches on MEDLINE, CINAHL, and the Cochrane Library.


Articles from indexed journals relevant to the objective and published after 1990 (except for classic findings) were reviewed. Although a myriad of pertinent articles was located, referenced citations were limited to three per point. When article selection was required for a specific point, preferences were given to (a) randomized controlled trials; (b) meta-analyses; (c) studies with the largest, most representative samples; and (d) investigations conducted in North America.


Data were extracted and organized under the following headings: benefits of breastfeeding, breastfeeding initiation and duration, personal characteristics, attitudinal and intrapersonal characteristics, hospital policies and intrapartum experience, sources of support, breastfeeding interventions, and review implications.


Although the health benefits of breastfeeding are well documented and initiation rates have increased over the past 20 years, most mothers wean before the recommended 6-months postpartum because of perceived difficulties with breastfeeding rather than due to maternal choice. Women least likely to breastfeed are those who are young, have a low income, belong to an ethnic minority, are unsupported, are employed full-time, decided to breastfeed during or late in pregnancy, have negative attitudes toward breastfeeding, and have low confidence in their ability to breastfeed. Support from the mother's partner or a nonprofessional greatly increases the likelihood of positive breastfeeding behaviors. Health care professionals can be a negative source of support if their lack of knowledge results in inaccurate or inconsistent advice. Furthermore, a number of hospital routines are potentially detrimental to breastfeeding. Although professional interventions that enhance the usual care mothers receive increase breastfeeding duration to 2 months, these supportive strategies have limited long-term effects. Peer support interventions also promote positive breastfeeding behaviors and should be considered.


A promising intervention is the complementation of professional services with peer support from a mother experienced in breastfeeding. This lay support appears to be an effective intervention with socially disadvantaged women.

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[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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