Purpose: We wanted to systematically review whether primary care-based interventions improve initiation and duration of breastfeeding.
Methods: Studies were found by searching MEDLINE (1966-2001), Health-STAR, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, the National Health Service Centre for Reviews and Dissemination Databases, and bibliographies of identified trials and review articles. Studies were included if they originated in the primary care setting and were conducted in a developed country, written in English, and contained a concurrent control group.
Results: Thirty randomized and nonrandomized controlled trials and 5 systematic reviews of breastfeeding counseling were included. Educational programs had the greatest effect of any single intervention on both initiation (difference 0.23; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.12-0.34) and short-term duration (difference 0.39; 95% CI, 0.27-0.50). Support programs conducted by telephone, in person, or both increased short-term (difference 0.11; 95% CI, 0.03-0.19) and long-term duration (difference 0.08; 95% CI, 0.02-0.16). In contrast, written materials such as pamphlets did not significantly increase breastfeeding. Data were insufficient to determine whether the combination of education with support was more effective than education alone.
Conclusions: Educational programs were the most effective single intervention. One woman would breast-feed for up to 3 months for every 3 to 5 women attending breastfeeding educational programs. Future research and policy should focus on translating these findings into more widespread practice in diverse primary care settings.