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Explaining socioeconomic inequalities in exclusive breast feeding in Norway

Abstract

Background and objective In high-income countries, lower socioeconomic position is associated with lower rates of breast feeding, but it is unclear what factors explain this inequality. Our objective was to examine the association between socioeconomic position and exclusive breast feeding, and to explore whether socioeconomic inequality in exclusive breast feeding could be explained by other sociodemographic characteristics, for example, maternal age and parity, smoking habits, birth characteristics, quality of counselling and breastfeeding difficulties.

Methods We used data from a questionnaire sent to mothers when their infants were five completed months as part of a trial of a breastfeeding intervention in Norway. We used maternal education as an indicator of socioeconomic position. Analyses of 1598 mother–infant pairs were conducted using logistic regression to assess explanatory factors of educational inequalities in breast feeding.

Results Socioeconomic inequalities in exclusive breast feeding were present from the beginning and persisted for five completed months, when 22% of the most educated mothers exclusively breast fed compared with 7% of the least educated mothers: OR 3.39 (95% CI 1.74 to 6.61). After adjustment for all potentially explanatory factors, the OR was reduced to 1.49 (95% CI 0.70 to 3.14). This decrease in educational inequality seemed to be mainly driven by sociodemographic factors, smoking habits and breastfeeding difficulties, in particular perceived milk insufficiency.

Conclusions Socioeconomic inequalities in exclusive breast feeding at 5 months were largely explained by sociodemographic factors, but also by modifiable factors, such as smoking habits and breastfeeding difficulties, which can be amenable to public health interventions.

Trial registration number NCT01025362.

  • Infant Feeding
  • socioeconomic inequality
  • breastfeeding
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