Objective: To study the effects on breast feeding duration of mother-baby separation after birth, owing to full-term babies' care in a neonatal unit for a maximum of six days.
Design: Retrospective review of medical records and telephone interviews with mothers.
Setting: A level II and III NICU in a University Hospital.
Participants: 148 mother-baby pairs in a separated group and 3516 in a comparison group.
Main outcome measures: Breast feeding success is defined as the duration of exclusive and partial breast feeding.
Findings: There were no differences in breast feeding duration between babies in the separated group and the comparison group. More than 70% of the babies in both groups were breast fed exclusively after two months and more than 50% for more than four months. In the separated group delays in physical contact, first suckling and regular breast feeding, and duration of separation were not associated with shorter duration of breast feeding. Mixed feeding, both breast and bottle at the time of discharge from hospital, and baby diagnosis of hypoglycaemia had a negative impact. Maternal level of education was also associated with the breast feeding outcome.
Conclusions: Although every possible effort should be made to avoid mother-baby separation, women can be reassured that separation, because of their or the baby's medical condition during the first days after birth, need not be considered an obstacle to successful breast feeding.