Objective: To assess breast-feeding promotion in maternity hospitals and breast-feeding prevalences during the first year of life in mother-infant pairs in Germany.
Design: Cross-sectional assessment of breast-feeding practices in a random sample of German maternity hospitals by use of a postal questionnaire. Follow-up of mother-infant pairs recruited in the participating hospitals to assess breast-feeding prevalences and infant feeding practices by use of a telephone interview 14 days after birth and food-frequency questionnaires mailed at the end of the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 9th and 12th month of life. Use of indicators for breast-feeding proposed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
Setting: Nation-wide survey.
Subjects: One hundred and seventy-seven maternity hospitals, 1717 mother-infant pairs.
Results: There were wide variations in breast-feeding promotion in hospitals as evaluated by the practice of the '10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding' given by WHO and UNICEF for certification as a 'Babyfriendly Hospital'. Some steps (3, 4, 8) were practised in about 90% of the hospitals, others (steps 7, 9) in only 10%. Prevalences for exclusive (total) breast-feeding as defined by WHO were: 73% (86%) at discharge, 60% (85%) at 14 days, 42% (70%) at 2 months, 33% (59%) at 4 months, 10% (48%) at 6 months, <1% (26%) at 9 months and 0 (13%) at 12 months.
Conclusions: By use of indicators proposed by WHO and UNICEF, a differentiated insight into the breast-feeding situation in Germany has become possible. Moderate levels of breast-feeding promotion in hospitals resulted in almost satisfactory early breast-feeding prevalences but were not effective for long-term breast-feeding success in most mothers.