Background: Evidence suggests that breastfeeding decreases the risk for many diseases in mothers and infants. It is therefore important to evaluate the effectiveness of breastfeeding interventions.
Purpose: To systematically review evidence for the effectiveness of primary care-initiated interventions to promote breastfeeding with respect to breastfeeding and child and maternal health outcomes.
Data sources: Electronic searches of MEDLINE, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, and CINAHL from September 2001 to February 2008 and references of selected articles, restricted to English-language publications.
Study selection: Randomized, controlled trials of primary care-initiated interventions to promote breastfeeding, mainly in developed countries.
Data extraction: Characteristics of interventions and comparators, study setting, study design, population characteristics, the proportion of infants continuing breastfeeding by different durations, and infant or maternal health outcomes were recorded.
Data synthesis: Thirty-eight randomized, controlled trials (36 in developed countries) met eligibility criteria. In random-effects meta-analyses, breastfeeding promotion interventions in developed countries resulted in significantly increased rates of short- (1 to 3 months) and long-term (6 to 8 months) exclusive breastfeeding (rate ratios, 1.28 [95% CI, 1.11 to 1.48] and 1.44 [CI, 1.13 to 1.84], respectively). In subgroup analyses, combining pre- and postnatal breastfeeding interventions had a larger effect on increasing breastfeeding durations than either pre- or postnatal interventions alone. Furthermore, breastfeeding interventions with a component of lay support (such as peer support or peer counseling) were more effective than usual care in increasing the short-term breastfeeding rate.
Limitations: Meta-analyses were limited by clinical and methodological heterogeneity. Reliable estimates for the isolated effects of each component of multicomponent interventions could not be obtained.
Conclusion: Evidence suggests that breastfeeding interventions are more effective than usual care in increasing short- and long-term breastfeeding rates. Combined pre- and postnatal interventions and inclusion of lay support in a multicomponent intervention may be beneficial.