Background: The rate and duration of breastfeeding in Ethiopia is very high. Factors that could affect breastfeeding among women emigrating to Israel include the desire to adopt "modern" behaviors, the availability of infant formulas, and the greater awareness of AIDS and fear of transmission via breast milk.
Objectives: To examine the rate and duration of breastfeeding among recent Ethiopian immigrants to Israel.
Methods: Using a structured questionnaire we interviewed 93 Ethiopian born mothers of children aged 2 months to 5 years living in northern Israel.
Results: Ninety-two percent of the children born in Ethiopia were exclusively breastfed as compared to 76.3% of the Israeli born children, in whom the rate of mixed feeding was 18.3%. Although the duration of breastfeeding of the youngest child was significantly shorter than that of the firstborn (20.1 vs. 24.8 months), it remains much longer than the average duration for native Israeli mothers. No association was seen between breastfeeding rate or duration and the years since immigration, work outside the home or exposure to formula. The women's attitude towards breastfeeding was positive despite the lack of specific knowledge concerning breast milk and infant formulas.
Conclusions: Breastfeeding patterns among Ethiopian women have changed since their immigration to Israel. These changes probably reflect the cultural and societal pressures to acculturate to the mores of the adopted society. Reinforcing traditional family and peer support for these women is important to preserve breastfeeding in this population. This should be done within the context of changes that support breastfeeding in Israeli society.