Influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on breastfeeding support for healthy mothers and the association between compliance with WHO recommendations for breastfeeding support and exclusive breastfeeding in Japan

PeerJ. 2022 May 19;10:e13347. doi: 10.7717/peerj.13347. eCollection 2022.


Background: Professional breastfeeding support contributes to maternal and child health. However, the influence of the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on breastfeeding support has not been carefully examined. Therefore, we assessed maternal breastfeeding intention and professional breastfeeding support before and during the pandemic. We further examined the association of compliance with World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations for professional breastfeeding support with exclusive breastfeeding during the pandemic.

Methods: This cross-sectional, internet-based, questionnaire study analyzed data from 484 healthy women with live singleton births between 15 October 2019 and 25 October 2020 in Japan. A delivery before 5 March 2020 was classified as a before-pandemic delivery (n = 135), and a delivery after 6 March 2020 was a during-pandemic delivery (n = 349). Among the ten breastfeeding support steps recommended by the WHO, we assessed the five steps that are measurable by maternal self-report and would likely exhibit variability. Receipt of a free formula sample or invitation to a free sample campaign by the time of survey was also asked. Infant feeding status at the time of the survey was measured among women with infants younger than 5 months, which was a subgroup of mothers who delivered during the pandemic. Mothers were asked what was given to infants during the 24 h before the survey and when nothing other than breast milk was given, the status was classified as exclusive breastfeeding.

Results: While 82.2% of women with a delivery before the pandemic intended to breastfeed, the rate was 75.6% during the pandemic (p = 0.120). The average number of breastfeeding support steps received was 3.24 before the pandemic but it was 3.01 during the pandemic (p = 0.069). In particular, rooming-in was less frequent (39.3% before vs. 27.8% during the pandemic, p = 0.014). Among mothers with infants younger than 5 months who had a delivery during the pandemic (n = 189), only 37.0% (n = 70) reported exclusively breastfeeding during the 24 h before completing the survey. Multiple logistic regression analysis indicated that receiving support for all five steps was positively associated with exclusive breastfeeding during the 24 h before the survey (adjusted odds ratio 4.51; 95% CI [1.50-13.61]). Receipt of a free formula sample or invitation to a free sample campaign was negatively associated with exclusive breastfeeding (adjusted odds ratio 0.43; 95% CI [0.19-0.98]). Other factors related to non-exclusive breastfeeding were older maternal age, lower education level, primiparity, and no breastfeeding intention.

Conclusions: The pandemic weakened breastfeeding support for healthy women in Japan; however, support practice that adhered to WHO recommendations appeared to be effective during the pandemic.

Keywords: COVID-19; Exclusive breastfeeding; Japan; Professional breastfeeding support; Ten steps to successful breastfeeding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Japan / epidemiology
  • Pandemics*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • World Health Organization

Grants and funding

This study was funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) KAKENHI Grants, 18H03062 (Takahiro Tabuchi) and 21H04856 (Takahiro Tabuchi and Sumiyo Okawa). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.