A systematic review of structured versus non-structured breastfeeding programmes to support the initiation and duration of exclusive breastfeeding in acute and primary healthcare settings

JBI Libr Syst Rev. 2011;9(36):1471-1508. doi: 10.11124/01938924-201109360-00001.


Executive summary: Background: Breastfeeding has many important health benefits for the woman and her baby. Despite evidence of benefit from a large number of well conducted studies, breastfeeding uptake and the duration of exclusive breastfeeding remain low in many countries. In order to improve breastfeeding rates, policy and guidelines at global, individual country level and in local healthcare settings have recommended that structured programmes to support breastfeeding should be introduced. The objective of this review was to consider the evidence of outcomes of structured compared with non-structured breastfeeding programmes in acute maternity care settings to support initiation and duration of exclusive breastfeeding.

Review methods: The definition of structured programme used included a multi-faceted or single intervention approach to support breastfeeding; definition of non-structured included support offered within standard care. The review considered quantitative and qualitative studies which addressed outcomes following the introduction of a structured programme in acute healthcare settings to support breastfeeding compared with no programme. The primary outcomes of interest were uptake of breastfeeding and duration of exclusive breastfeeding (only breast milk, including milk expressed). Studies which only considered community based interventions were not included.

Search strategy: A search of the literature published between 1992 and 2010 was conducted, which followed a four step process. After a limited search of MEDLINE and CINAHL to identify key words contained in the title or abstract and index terms to describe relevant interventions, a second extensive search was undertaken using identified key words and index terms. The third step included a search of reference lists and bibliographies of relevant articles and the fourth step included a search of grey and unpublished literature and national databasesMethodological quality: Methodological quality was assessed using checklists developed by the Joanna Briggs Institute. Two independent reviewers conducted critical appraisal and data extraction.

Results: Twenty-six articles were included; one randomised controlled trial, two non randomised trials, one cross-sectional study, five systematic reviews, 15 cohort studies and two descriptive studies. Due to the poor quality of evidence presented and clinical and methodological heterogeneity of study designs, including definitions of breastfeeding and duration of follow-up, it was not possible to combine studies or individual outcomes in meta-analyses, therefore findings are presented in a narrative form.In most studies the structured programme of interest reflected some or all of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative 'Ten Steps'. Most studies found a statistically significant improvement in initiation of breastfeeding following introduction of a structured breastfeeding programme, although effect sizes varied widely.The impact of introducing a structured programme on the duration of exclusive breastfeeding and duration of any breastfeeding was also evident, although not all studies found statistically significant differences. At hospital discharge or within the first week post-birth, implementation of a structured programme appeared to increase duration of exclusive breastfeeding and the duration of any breastfeeding compared with usual care. After hospital discharge and up to six months post-birth, use of structured programmes also appeared to support continued duration of exclusive and any breastfeeding although differences in outcomes were not reported across all included studies. At six months, three of five studies which included data on longer-term outcomes showed women were statistically significantly more likely to be exclusively breastfeeding. Only one of these studies compared outcomes following implementation of BFHI.

Conclusions: Despite the poor overall quality of studies, structured programmes, regardless of content, compared with standard care appear to influence the uptake and duration of exclusive breastfeeding and any breastfeeding. In healthcare settings with low breastfeeding uptake and duration rates, structured programmes may have a greater benefit. In countries where breastfeeding uptake is already high, the benefit is less apparent. The extent to which structured programmes in different maternity acute care settings have a significant effect on the duration of exclusive breastfeeding at six months is less clear. Most of the recommendations of this review were based on observational studies and retrospective data collection. Few studies controlled for any potential confounding factors and the impact of bias has to be considered.

Implications for practice: Acute maternity care settings should implement structured programmes to support breastfeeding as part of routine maternity care. Programmes can replicate an existing programme, such as the BFHI, in full or in part, or be specifically developed to support implementation of evidence to reflect the needs and demands of the local healthcare organisation. In healthcare settings which have a high uptake of breastfeeding, resources may be better directed at improving support for duration of exclusive breastfeeding in the community.

Implications for research: Further high quality RCTs are needed which address the impact of introduction of structured programmes on women's experiences of infant feeding, on the role of the relevant healthcare professionals and on short and longer-term health outcomes. Prospective data capture to inform economic analyses should also be undertaken. Trial interventions need to be well defined and implementation processes described to inform reproducibility across different locations and different country settings. Research is also needed to address the issue of which elements of a structured programme are likely to lead to the most clinical and cost effective use of healthcare resources and to address how sustainable these interventions are in health systems facing increased economic pressures.