Racial/ethnic differences in breastfeeding initiation and continuation in the United Kingdom and comparison with findings in the United States

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

June 1, 2006


OBJECTIVE. Patterns of breastfeeding vary considerably across different racial/ethnic groups; however, little is known about factors that might explain differences across and within different racial/ethnic groups. Here we examine patterns of breastfeeding initiation and continuation among a racially/ethnically diverse sample of new mothers and compare this with patterns seen in the United States. The effects of demographic, social, economic, and cultural factors on racial/ethnic differences in breastfeeding practices are assessed.
METHODS. The sample includes all singleton infants whose mothers participated in the first survey of the United Kingdom Millennium Cohort Study. Missing data reduced the sample to 17474 (96%) infants with complete data.
RESULTS. After adjustment for demographic, economic, and psychosocial factors, logistic regression models showed that Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, black Caribbean, and black African mothers were more likely to initiate breastfeeding compared with white mothers. Further adjustment for a marker of cultural tradition attenuated these relationships, but all remained statistically significant, suggesting that some of the difference was a consequence of cultural factors. After adjustment for demographic, economic, and psychosocial factors, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, black Carribbean, and black African mothers were more likely to continue breastfeeding at 3 months compared with white mothers. Additional adjustment for a marker of cultural tradition attenuated the relationship for Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and black African mothers, but all remained statistically significant. Models run for breastfeeding continuation at 4 and 6 months were consistent with these results.
CONCLUSIONS. We have shown that in the United Kingdom the highest breastfeeding rates are among black and Asian mothers, which is in stark contrast to patterns in the United States, where the lowest rate is seen among non-Hispanic black mothers. The contrasting racial/ethnic patterns of breastfeeding in the UnitedKingdom and United States necessitate very different public health approaches to reach national targets on breastfeeding and reduce health disparities. Those who implement future policies aimed at increasing breastfeeding rates need to pay attention to different social, economic, and cultural profiles of all racial/ethnic groups.

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Volume and page numbers

Volume: 118 , p.1 -1







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