• Vol. 39 No. 2, 88–94
  • 15 February 2010

Emerging Trends in Breastfeeding Practices in Singaporean Chinese Women: Findings from a Population-based Study



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Introduction: This study records the prevalence and patterns of breastfeeding in Singaporean Chinese mothers who gave birth between 2000 and 2008.

Materials and Methods: The Strabismus, Amblyopia and Refractive Error in Singaporean Children (STARS) study is a population-based survey conducted in South-Western Singapore. Disproportionate random sampling by 6-month age groups of Chinese children born from 2000 to 2008 was performed. The mothers (n = 3009) completed a standard questionnaire which recorded the initiation, content, method and duration of breastfeeding. World Health Organization (WHO) definitions for feeding content were used: Replacement (exclusive commercial formula or any liquid or solid/semi-solid food, excluding breast milk), Complementary (breast milk, solid/semi-solid foods, and any non-human liquid), and Exclusive (breast milk only, without additional food, drink or water). STARS-specific definitions for feeding method were used: Expressed (breast milk only fed via bottle, with no additional food or non-human liquid), Combination (breast milk and non-breast milk, fed via bottle and breast), and Direct (breast milk only fed via breast).

Results: Breastfeeding initiation (overall prevalence 77.0%) and duration increased over time, and were independently associated with higher maternal education: in 2000 and 2001, 68.6% of mothers initiated breastfeeding and 12.9% breast fed for ≤6 months, versus 82.0% and 26.7%, respectively, from 2006 to 2008; 47.4% of primary-school-educated women initiated breastfeeding, and 11.1% fed for ≥6 months, vs 90.9% and 35.3%, respectively, of university-educated women (P <0.001). Expressed, Combination and Complementary feeding also increased, while Replacement feeding decreased (P <0.001). There was no difference in breastfeeding patterns by the child’s gender.

Conclusions: In a population-based sample of Singaporean Chinese mothers giving birth from 2000 to 2008, breastfeeding initiation and duration increased over time and were independently associated with higher maternal education. This increase was associated with increased milk expression and complementary feeding. Thus awareness of breastfeeding benefits is rising in Singapore, but future health policies may need to target less-educated mothers.

The health benefits of breast milk have been well documented, with positive implications for infants’ metabolic, immunologic, respiratory and digestive health. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and partial breastfeeding thereafter for at least 12 or 24 months. However, actual breastfeeding practices often fall short of these guidelines.

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