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CURREN T INFAN T FEEDIN G PRACTICE S

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Infant's feet being held by a woman's hand with painted and manicured hands resting on a gray blanket

Breast-feeding is on the rise in the United States. From 1973 to 1975, the percentage of breast-feeding American mothers rose from 25% to 35%. These figures, taken from a national health statistics survey, (U.S. Dept. Health, Education and Welfare, 1979), represent the increase in breast feeding overall. Differentiating between Black and Caucasian women, the statistics show a decidedly higher rate of increase in breast feeding among whites (33% compared with 15%) for the years 1973-1975. There is an even more dramatic difference when education is considered. Given an education of 12 years or more, 48% of mothers chose breast feeding during the 2 years surveyed. Among those with less than 12 years of schooling, the percentage goes down by half, that is, to 24%. The trend, therefore, seems clear and reflects the trend generally in developed nations around the world. Nevertheless, other considerations enter in. As the survey further showed, less than one-tenth of breast-feeding mothers continued to breast-feed beyond 3 months. If second births are considered, fractions in all categories move down. Thus, the report concludes that the overall impact of breast feeding on American society is yet relatively minor. Putting it differently, a large majority of American mothers still rely on bottle feeding, either of infant formula or some other substitute for breast milk. Similarly, a Czechoslovakian survey (Salata, 1979) found 40% of infants being breast-fed for 28 days or less, or not at all. A 1975 study representative of the situation in England and Wales (Hide, 1979) showed 50% of mothers attempting to breast-feed. However, less than half of these women succeeded in holding lactation for more than 6 weeks. Diaries kept by 1000 women residing on the Isle of Wight showed that 50% were breast-feeding at the end of 1 week postpartum, but only 33% were still breast-feeding after 3 months. These data were taken for the year 1974. A somewhat earlier study, conducted in Canada during 1965-1971, showed 5% of Canadian mothers breast-feeding solely (Myeres, 1979). As many as 25% started the practice initially, but the majority (75%) of these women had resorted to bottle feeding by 3 months. In Sweden in 1975, as many as 46% of infants were still being breast-fed at 2 months of age, and the trend was up from earlier years. Generally, it is the affluent segment of the developed world that appears to be turning to breast feeding. Reasons given for either bottle feeding or breast feeding are varied. Personal, social, cultural, and family factors enter into the decision. Often the choice has been made by early pregnancy. Not the least of determining factors, according to some studies, is the husbands’ feelings in the matter. In developing nations the situation appears to be quite different. A Canadian survey (North-South Institute, 1979) made in Bangladesh, Haiti, Honduras, India, and St. Vincent found breast feeding to be “very well established” and frequently undertaken for up to 2 years. A World Health Organization (WHO) analysis provides somewhat similar findings (Hofvander and Petros-Barvazian, 1978). Considering 24,000 mother-child pairs in Chile, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Zaire, Sweden, and Hungary), breast feeding was noted to be declining among the urban elite

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