To examine the pattern of and the influence of some socio-demographic factors on infant milk feedings, and the protective role of breastfeeding against infections.
Mothers who breastfed their infants (exclusively or partially) at 6 weeks postpartum, and who had singleton pregnancies and healthy infants at birth, were interviewed when their infants had reached 6 months of age.
Of the 234 mothers studied, only 31 (13%) mothers were practising exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) and 133 (57%) mothers were using exclusive infant formula feeding (EIF). Solid and semi-solid foods were introduced between 4 to 6 months of life in 89% of the infants. On logistic regression analysis, mothers who were in paid employment [OR 0.25, 95% CI 0.15, 0.42] and not breast feeding at 6 weeks [OR 0.32, 95% CI 0.19, 0.54] had decreased odds of EBF. Antenatal plans to breastfeed, breast-feeding difficulties, ethnicity, level of parental education, parental ages, fathers' income, primigravida status and infants' gender were not significant co-variates. In comparison, EIF was more likely in mothers who worked, practised mixed feedings at 6 weeks and of Chinese descent. There were no significant differences in the rates of upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) or diarrhoeal illnesses between the infants who were or were not being breast-fed.
Most mothers were unable to breastfeed their infants exclusively in the recommended first 4 to 6 months of life. Complementary changes outside the hospital and maternity services are essential in improving breastfeeding rates. Breastfeeding does not appear to confer significant protection to either URTI or gastrointestinal tract infections.