Past and recent abuse is associated with early cessation of breast feeding: results from a large prospective cohort in Norway

BMJ Open. 2015 Dec 18;5(12):e009240. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-009240.


Objective: Breast feeding provides a wide range of health benefits for both infants and mothers. Few studies have examined the impact of past and recent abuse of women on breastfeeding behaviour. The aims of our study were to examine whether exposure to past and recent emotional, sexual or physical abuse was associated with early breastfeeding cessation, and to assess whether a potential association differed for known and unknown perpetrators.

Design: Prospective cohort study.

Setting: Norway, years 1999-2006.

Participants: 53,934 mothers participated in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study. We included mothers with singleton pregnancy who had responded to three questionnaires (weeks 18 and 30 in pregnancy, and 6 months postpartum) and had answered minimum one of the abuse questions in week 30.

Main outcome measure: ORs were estimated by binary logistic regression with cessation of any (all) breast feeding before 4 months as the outcome, and abuse including subcategories of abuse, as the exposure.

Results: Nearly all women initiated breast feeding, but 12.1% ceased any breast feeding before 4 months and 38.9% ceased full breast feeding before 4 months, but continued partial breast feeding. Overall, 19% of the women reported any adult abuse and 18% reported any child abuse. The highest risk of any breast feeding cessation before 4 months was seen in women exposed to three types of adult abuse (emotional, sexual or physical), with adjusted OR being 1.47 (95% CI 1.23 to 1.76) compared with no abuse. Recent abuse and exposure from known perpetrator resulted in nearly 40% and 30% increased risk, respectively. The OR of any breast feeding cessation for women exposed to any child abuse was 1.41 (95% CI 1.32 to 1.50) compared with no abuse in childhood.

Conclusions: Past and recent abuse of women is strongly associated with early cessation of breast feeding. Abused mothers comprise a key group to target for extra support and breastfeeding assistance.


Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Breast Feeding / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Norway
  • Physical Abuse / psychology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sex Offenses / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult