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The Relationship of Pregnancy Intentions to Breastfeeding Duration: A New Evaluation

Health and Health Care Concerns Among Women and Racial and Ethnic Minorities

ISBN: 978-1-78743-150-8, eISBN: 978-1-78743-149-2

Publication date: 10 August 2017


Past research suggests that whether pregnancies are wanted, unwanted, or mistimed may influence breastfeeding behavior. The purpose of this chapter is to develop a more precise understanding of this relationship. Specifically, this chapter asks three questions: first, do pregnancy intentions matter most in sustaining breastfeeding for long or for short durations postpartum; second, at what time postpartum are rates of breastfeeding discontinuation most differentiated by pregnancy intentions; and third, how does poverty (measured here by Medicaid receipt) moderate the relationship between pregnancy intentions and breastfeeding duration.

Logistic regression analysis of survey data from a national sample representative of US mothers is used to determine the relationship of pregnancy intentions to whether breastfeeding continues for various durations and through various intervals after birth. Interaction terms between pregnancy intentions and mother’s Medicaid status are used to test for relationships specific to poor or nonpoor mothers between pregnancy intentions and breastfeeding duration.

Results show that pregnancy timing matters most for sustaining breastfeeding for durations past 6 months and that differences in rates of breastfeeding discontinuation between mothers with wanted, unwanted, and mistimed pregnancies are most pronounced in the 3–7 months postpartum period. In addition, findings show that Medicaid recipients (but not nonrecipients) are less likely to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months when their pregnancies are mistimed.

The literature on fundamental causes of health disparities typically suggests that poverty impairs access to resources necessary for effective planning to achieve desirable health outcomes. This study’s results, however, show that planning of pregnancies is more critical for poor mothers to sustain exclusive breastfeeding. Further research is needed to explain this relationship. The results also suggest that policy interventions to help mothers with unplanned pregnancies to sustain breastfeeding should target the period from 3 to 7 months postpartum.

These findings can help shape policies for facilitating the continuation of breastfeeding for durations recommended by health authorities and advance our understanding of the effects of poverty on health behaviors.



Friedson, M.S., Arthur, M.M.L. and Burger, A.P. (2017), "The Relationship of Pregnancy Intentions to Breastfeeding Duration: A New Evaluation", Health and Health Care Concerns Among Women and Racial and Ethnic Minorities (Research in the Sociology of Health Care, Vol. 35), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 13-37.



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