Socioeconomic status and rates of breastfeeding in Australia: evidence from three recent national health surveys

Med J Aust 2008; 189 (5): 254-256.


Objective: To investigate whether the relationship between socioeconomic status and breastfeeding initiation and duration changed in Australia between 1995 and 2004.

Design and setting: Secondary analysis of data from national health surveys (NHSs) conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 1995, 2001 and 2004–05. The Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) classification was used as a measure of socioeconomic status.

Main outcome measures: Rates of initiation of breastfeeding; rates of breastfeeding at 3, 6 and 12 months.

Results: Between the 1995 and 2004–05 NHSs, there was little change in overall rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration. In 2004–05, breastfeeding initiation was 87.8%, and the proportions of infants breastfeeding at 3, 6 and 12 months were 64.4%, 50.4% and 23.3%, respectively. In 1995, the odds ratio (OR) of breastfeeding at 6 months increased by an average of 13% (OR, 1.13 [95% CI, 1.07–1.19]) for each increase in SEIFA quintile; in 2001, the comparative increase was 21% (OR, 1.21 [95% CI, 1.12–1.30]); while in 2004–05, the comparative increase was 26% (OR, 1.26 [95% CI, 1.17–1.36]). Breastfeeding at 3 months and 1 year showed similar changes in ORs. There was little change in the ORs for breastfeeding initiation.

Conclusion: Although overall duration of breastfeeding remained fairly constant in Australia between 1995 and 2004–05, the gap between the most disadvantaged and least disadvantaged families has widened considerably over this period.

  • Lisa H Amir1,2,3
  • Susan M Donath4,5

  • 1 Mother and Child Health Research, La Trobe University, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 2 Medical One — QV, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 3 Breastfeeding Education and Support Services, Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 4 Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics Unit, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 5 Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, VIC.

Correspondence: l.amir@latrobe.edu.au

Competing interests:

None identified.

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