Breastfeeding Rates and Programs in Europe: A Survey of 11 National Breastfeeding Committees and Representatives
INTRODUCTION: Among the world's regions, the WHO European Region has the lowest rates of exclusive breastfeeding at the age of 6 months with approximately 25%. Low rates and early cessation of breastfeeding have important adverse health consequences for women, infants, and young children. Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding are a public health priority. OBJECTIVES: National breastfeeding data and monitoring systems among selected European countries and the WHO European Region are compared. Mechanisms for the support, protection, and promotion of breastfeeding are reviewed and successes and challenges in implementation of national programs are presented. METHODS: National representatives of national breastfeeding committees and initiatives in 11 European countries, including Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland, participated in a standardized survey. Results are evaluated and compared in a narrative review. RESULTS: Variation exists in Europe on breastfeeding rates; methodology for data collection; and mechanisms for support, protection, and promotion of breastfeeding. Directly after birth, between 56% and 98% of infants in all countries were reported to receive any human milk, and at 6 months 38% to 71% and 13% to 39% of infants to be breastfed or exclusively breastfed, respectively. National plans addressing breastfeeding promotion, protection, and support exist in 6 of the 11 countries. CONCLUSIONS: National governments should commit to evidence-based breastfeeding monitoring and promotion activities, including financial and political support, to improve breastfeeding rates in the Europe. Renewed efforts for collaboration between countries in Europe, including a sustainable platform for information exchange, are needed.
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