Objective: To assess breast-feeding initiation and prevalence from birth to 6 months in a sample of mothers in Dublin, and to determine the factors associated with breast-feeding initiation and 'any' breast-feeding at 6 weeks in a sample of Irish-national mothers.
Design: This prospective cross-sectional study involved the recruitment of women during the antenatal period, with subsequent follow-up of mothers who delivered healthy, term singleton infants, at 6 weeks and 6 months postpartum.
Setting: Participants were recruited from antenatal clinics in the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital, Dublin.
Subjects: In all, 401 Irish-national and forty-nine non-Irish-national mothers met the criteria for inclusion in the present study.
Results: Breast-feeding initiation rates of the Irish-national and non-Irish-nationals were 47% and 79.6%, respectively. Factors that were significantly (P = 0.000) associated with both breast-feeding initiation and 'any' breast-feeding at 6 weeks included mothers who were >or=35 years, educated to third level, reported positive postnatal encouragement to breast-feed from their partners and had a positive antenatal intention to breast-feed. The maternal negative perception that breast-feeding is an embarrassing way to feed an infant was demonstrated as a major barrier to initiation.
Conclusions: Breast-feeding initiation and prevalence rates of the Irish-national population remain low and lag considerably behind national and international targets. Inclusion of the partner in breast-feeding promotional initiatives during the antenatal period may be crucial to increase breast-feeding rates in Ireland. Public health campaigns that focus on increasing the social acceptability of breast-feeding may prove effective in addressing this cultural barrier.