Married Mothers: Doing Right By Baby

Public-health officials throughout the industrialized world recognize the tremendous advantages—immunological, neurological, nutritional—that babies enjoy when their mothers breastfeed them.  Unfortunately, these officials have struggled to increase the number of mothers giving their infants such advantages.  But in a study recently completed at the Universities of Dundee and Leeds in the United Kingdom, epidemiologists will find strong evidence that the international retreat from wedlock is hurting the effort to encourage breastfeeding. Keenly aware of “the short-term and long-term health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child,” the British researchers set out to create a statistical model for identifying women who are least likely to start and to continue breastfeeding.  The researchers see a need for such a statistical model at a time when “most developed countries report that a minority of infants are exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months (40% the Netherlands; 13% the USA),” even though the World Health Organization recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.” To collect data for analysis, the researchers identified 355 women ages 16 and older in 2009-10 who had recently given birth at Dundee Hospital.  Among the social characteristics of these women that predict breastfeeding, marital status stands out sharply. Among the significant predictors of initiating breastfeeding, “living with a husband or partner” attracts particular attention.  For this predictor, the researchers calculate a Relative Risk of 6.07.  In other words, a new mother living on her own is more than six times more likely to forego breastfeeding than a new married mother (p < 0.001). Of course, a woman who starts breastfeeding may not continue this health-giving practice for the recommended six months.  But the benefits of breastfeeding are simply out of the question when the
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