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Who breastfeeds in Germany and for how long?

20/2017, 17.05.2017

National Breastfeeding Committee at the BfR calls for national breastfeeding monitoring programme to systematically collect data on breastfeeding

Based on the data that is currently available, it is not possible to determine breastfeeding rates and durations in Germany according to uniform scientific criteria. This is the finding of a recent literature study by scientists of the National Breastfeeding Committee. The aim of the study was to gain insights into the development of breastfeeding habits from the breastfeeding data published in Germany during the last 20 years. No clear changes in breastfeeding rates were found in any infant age group over time. The study was published in the professional journal Das Gesundheitswesen (DOI: 10.1055/s-0035-1555946).

Breastfeeding has numerous benefits for both child and mother. Expert committees worldwide see the promotion of breastfeeding as an important health policy measure. Continuous breastfeeding monitoring on national level would provide a basis for need-oriented measures to promote and evaluate breastfeeding, permit realistic international comparisons of breastfeeding data and ensure that trends can be identified in near-real time.

The literature study entitled "Stillhäufigkeit und Stilldauer in Deutschland - eine systematische Übersicht" (Breastfeeding Rates and Durations in Germany - a Systematic Overview) was based on 35 publications containing data on breastfeeding for the 1990 to 2012 birth cohorts. The data is mainly from regional or local surveys and was predominantly collected retrospectively. The studies show that, since the beginning of the 90s, breastfeeding rates directly after birth have been relatively constant at between 70 and almost 100% of infants. After just 2 months, all the studies in all years measured a strong decline in breastfeeding rates. After 6 months, only around 50% of all infants were still being breastfed at all. In no age group does the totality of data that is currently available point to any clear time-based trends in any or full breastfeeding rates. However, local longitudinal studies indicate stagnation or even a downtrend in full breastfeeding during the last 10 years.

The available study data was collected under non-uniform framework conditions as well as with different objectives and using different methods - and does not therefore permit a reliable assessment of the development of breastfeeding behaviour in Germany. The National Breastfeeding Committee believes that, in order to ensure better documentation and assessment of breastfeeding trends in Germany, the survey methods must be standardised - preferably within the context of a national breastfeeding monitoring programme.

The National Breastfeeding Committee published a concept for national breastfeeding monitoring back in 2009:

This could pave the way for the systematic, nationwide collection of data on the commencement of breastfeeding in maternity clinics, while breastfeeding habits could be prospectively surveyed within the framework of child screening programmes and retrospectively in the context of school admission examinations. In addition, qualitative surveys to determine the factors that influence breastfeeding should be conducted at regular intervals. Central data collection and evaluation could provide the information needed for overall determination of breastfeeding rates and therefore for the reliable assessment of the effectiveness of breastfeeding promotion measures.

About the National Breastfeeding Committee at the BfR

The National Breastfeeding Committee was founded in 1994 with the aim of promoting a new breastfeeding culture in the Federal Republic of Germany and helping to ensure that breastfeeding becomes the normal form of nutrition for infants. The Committee is composed of members of medical professional associations and organisations who are committed to the issue of breastfeeding in Germany. You can find more information on the work of the National Breastfeeding Committee on the Internet at:

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

The BfR is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, the institute has published a jubilee brochure (in German) which can be downloaded or ordered free of charge at http://www.bfr.bund.de/en/publication/brochures-61045.html.

This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.

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