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Delayed Initiation of Breastfeeding and Role of Mode and Place of Childbirth: Evidence from Health Surveys in 58 Low- and Middle- Income Countries (2012–2017)


Abstract: Background: Timely initiation of breastfeeding is the first step towards achieving recommended breastfeeding behaviours. Delayed breastfeeding initiation harms neonatal health and survival, including infection associated neonatal mortality. Eighty percent of neonatal deaths occur in the low-and middle-income countries (LMICs), where delayed breastfeeding initiation is the highest. Place and mode of childbirth are important factors determining the time of initiation of breastfeeding. In this study, we report the prevalence of delayed breastfeeding initiation from 58 LMICs and investigate the relationship between place and mode of childbirth and delayed breastfeeding initiation in each country. Methods: We analysed data from the most recent Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) and Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) collected between 2012 and 2017 and reported by 2019. The study sample comprised all women who had a live birth in the 24 months preceding the survey. ‘Delayed’ initiation of breastfeeding was defined using WHO recommendations as starting breastfeeding after one hour of birth. We coded the stratifying variable for the place and mode of childbirth as “vaginal birth at a facility (VBF)”, “caesarean section birth (CSB) “, and “vaginal birth at home (VBH)”. We used respondent-level sampling weights to account for individual surveys and de-normalised the standard survey weights to ensure the appropriate contribution of data from each country. We report the prevalence and population attributable fractions with robust standard errors. The population attributable risk identifies the proportion of delayed initiation that we could avert among VBH and CSB if everyone had the same risk of delaying breastfeeding as in VBF. Results: The overall prevalence of delayed initiation of breastfeeding was 53.8% (95% CI 53.3, 54.3), ranging from 15.0% (95% CI 13.8, 16.2) in Burundi to 83.4% (95% CI 80.6, 86.0) in Guinea. The prevalence of delayed initiation of breastfeeding was consistently high among women who experienced caesarean section births; however, there was no direct association with each country’s national caesarean section rates. The prevalence of delayed initiation among women who experienced VBF was high in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, even though the CSB rates were low. In some countries, women who give birth vaginally in health facilities were more likely to delay breastfeeding initiation than women who did not. In many places, women who give birth by caesarean section were less likely to delay breastfeeding initiation. Population attributable risk percent for VBH ranged from −28.5% in Ukraine to 22.9% in Moldova, and for CSB, from 10.3% in Guinea to 54.8% in Burundi. On average, across all 58 countries, 24.4% of delayed initiation could be prevented if all women had the same risk of delaying breastfeeding initiation as in VBF. Discussion: In general, women who give birth in a health facility were less likely to experience delayed initiation of breastfeeding. Programs could avert much of the delayed breastfeeding initiation in LMICs if the prevalence of delayed initiation amongst women who experience CSB were the same as amongst women who experience VBF. Crucial reforms of health facilities are required to ensure early breastfeeding practices and to create pro-breastfeeding supportive environments as recommended in intervention packages like the Baby-friendly hospital initiative and Early essential newborn care. The findings from this study will guide program managers to identify countries at varying levels of preparedness to establish and maintain a breastfeeding-friendly environment at health facilities. Thus, governments should prioritise intervention strategies to improve coverage and settings surrounding early initiation of breastfeeding while considering the complex role of place and mode of childbirth.
Keywords: breastfeeding / initiation / caesarean section / vaginal births / health facilities / LMICs

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