BACKGROUND: Despite much work to publicise the benefits of breastfeeding most women do not persist for the first 6months, as recommended by the WHO. Successful breastfeeding for 6months may depend on several factors, including perinatal mental health. We aimed to investigate the impact of antenatal depressive symptoms, attitudes towards breastfeeding and socio-demographic factors in predicting breastfeeding for 6months in a large community sample.
METHODS: The sample was based on the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (n=9479), a large-scale birth cohort. Breastfeeding was assessed at multiple time-points, from postnatal day 1 until 6months postnatal. Self-reported symptoms of maternal depression were assessed at 18 and 32weeks gestation and at 8weeks postnatal. Antenatal attitudes towards breastfeeding were assessed at 32weeks gestation. Antenatal, obstetric, psychosocial and socio-demographic variables were also assessed.
RESULTS: Antenatal depressive symptoms at both 18 and 32weeks gestation were associated with decreased breastfeeding initiation and duration. However, the prediction of breastfeeding by these symptoms was confounded by socio-demographic and psychosocial covariates. A positive antenatal attitude towards breastfeeding was the strongest predictor and was associated with a 20-30% increase in breastfeeding initiation and maintenance at all time points.
CONCLUSION: This study highlights the wide range of factors that independently predict breastfeeding, and suggests that an intervention program to improve antenatal attitudes especially warrants investigation.