Background: Despite a steady increase in the rate of breastfeeding in Ireland over the period 2004-2010 (from 46.8 % in 2004 to 55.7 % in 2010), Irish rates of breastfeeding are still low by international standards. Over this period, the characteristics of mothers and babies changed, with mothers increasingly older, having fewer children and increasingly born outside the Republic of Ireland.
Aims: The purpose of this paper is to understand the extent to which changing maternal and birth characteristics explained the increase in the breastfeeding rate in Ireland over the period 2004-2010.
Methods: We apply non-linear decomposition techniques to micro-data from the 2004-2010 Irish National Perinatal Reporting System to examine this issue. The technique allows us to quantify the extent to which the increase in the breastfeeding rate over the period 2004-2010 is due to changing maternal and birth characteristics.
Results: We find that between 55 and 74 % of the increase over the period can be explained by changing characteristics, with the increasing share of mothers from Eastern Europe, and increasing maternal age the most important contributors.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that the existing policy initiatives have been relatively ineffective in increasing breastfeeding rates in Ireland, i.e. most of the observed increase occurred simply because the characteristics of mothers were changing in ways that made them increasingly likely to breastfeed.