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J Pediatr. 1995 Apr;126(4):507-14.

Impact of attitudes on maternal decisions regarding infant feeding.

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Iowa Social Science Institute, Department of Pediatrics, University of Iowa, Iowa City, USA.


It is essential that physicians and other health care professionals seeking to increase the rate of initiation and duration of breast-feeding build on the body of information concerning factors that influence a woman's attitudes about breast-feeding. The relation between positive attitudes concerning breast-feeding and its initiation is important to the development of programs targeting women before they become pregnant, and to the provision of active support for breast-feeding throughout the pregnancy, perinatal, and postnatal period. However, it is not sufficient for these programs to target only the mother or potential mother; members of a woman's social network must be considered as information targets. Educational programs must also be directed to the appropriate racial or ethnic group to develop programs that reach the individuals (father, female relative, or friend) most likely to influence the mother's breast-feeding decision. Physicians may be very knowledgeable about the nutritional and immune properties of human milk and yet not be supportive of the act of breast-feeding. This lack of support may be manifested by the lack of verbal support for women who intend to or are in the process of breast-feeding, the provision of infant formula before or at the time of birth of the baby, or encouragement to terminate breast-feeding should the mother encounter any difficulties with lactation. To increase physician awareness of the process of breast-feeding and the properties of human milk, information about the benefits should be integrated in both the basic science and the clinical curricula of medical schools. Primary care training programs, including obstetrics, should actively involve trainees in the management of breast-feeding women so that trainees become aware of the spectrum of circumstances that confront women seeking to establish and maintain successful breast-feeding. This type of involvement would provide a contextual base for physicians' understanding the attitudes and behaviors supportive of breast-feeding. Attitudes and behavior of women, although more complex then demographic factors, provide a powerful tool for meeting the Healthy People 2000 goals for the initiation and duration of breast-feeding. It is important to build on the base of research reviewed here to develop new and and more powerful interventions. Thus the emphasis on the known health advantages of human milk or the discovery of additional health benefits of breast-feeding should continue to be discussed because they may tip the balance in favor of breast-feeding for some women. Nevertheless, it may ultimately be more important to increase the amount of information provided to women (and girls and boys) about the practical aspects of the breast feeding process (e.g., ease of night feeding, fathers ability to feed mother's milk by bottle, lower cost, strategies to control leaking) then to rely solely on the positive health outcomes related to breast-feeding.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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