Background: Breastfeeding is viewed as the optimal method of infant feeding that provides many benefits to both the infant and the mother. The monitoring and reporting of breastfeeding indicators are essential for any country to plan and implement effective promotion programs for sustainable breastfeeding. The aim of this review is to examine the available studies and data on breastfeeding in Saudi Arabia, and determine the potential factors that affect breastfeeding practices and duration in this country.
Methods: The databases of Web of Knowledge, Science Direct and PubMed were searched using the relevant key words. Only studies that reported breastfeeding practices, rates and indicators in Saudi Arabia were included. Standard WHO definitions for breastfeeding categories were used in this review.
Results: Seventeen cross-sectional studies were identified and reviewed and five stated they used standard definitions. The self-administered questionnaire as a measurement tool was the predominant method of data collection. Infants' ages range from less than six months up to five years. Initiation rates were high (mostly above 90%), but a few studies reported low rates of timely initiation (within the first hour). The exclusive breastfeeding rate could not be accurately determined as rates range from 0.8% to 43.9% among studies due to the lack of clear definitions and the nature of study design. The partial (mixed) feeding method was common and the category of 'any breastfeeding' has generally high rates. The mean duration of breastfeeding has showed a progressive decline over time from 13.4 months in 1987 to 8.5 months in 2010. Factors associated with a high prevalence of breastfeeding and longer duration include increased maternal age, low educational levels, rural residence, low income, multiparity and avoiding contraceptives. The most common reason for breastfeeding cessation was insufficient breast milk. Other reasons include sickness, new pregnancy and breastfeeding problems.
Conclusions: Breastfeeding indicators in Saudi Arabia could not be monitored or compared relying on the available data because no longitudinal studies have been conducted in this country. A cohort study design would be the most appropriate procedure to rigorously assess and report valid results on breastfeeding practices and patterns in the Saudi society.