Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Fewer Swedish babies breastfed, still way more Swedish babies breastfed than American babies

Every so often...okay, not often, but once in a blue moon...my Swedish skills come in handy. And today I got the chance to put them to use, reading this report from the Swedish government on changes in breastfeeding rates from 2004 to 2008. While their recent decreases in breastfeeding are a problem (drops of more than 4% for some indicators) I was also struck by how insanely high most of their numbers seem to someone from the U.S.:

Exclusive breastfeeding at 1 week: 85% (down 4.3% from 2004)
Partial breastfeeding at 1 week: 12% (up 3.5% from 2004 - so there seems to be more early supplementation going on)
Adding these up, only about 3% of babies at one week are exclusively formula fed

Contrast this to the U.S. where over a quarter of infants are supplemented with formula before 2 days.

The drop becomes more pronounced the older children are (makes sense with an increase in early supplementation). At 6 months, 66.5% children are still exclusively or partially breastfed, down 6% from 2004. (But still, compare to 43% in the U.S.)

The one data point I found contradicting this pattern was breastfeeding to a year. While this report doesn't give national numbers, it notes that any breastfeeding at 12 months ranged from 11-22% in different regions of the country. That actually compares favorably in the U.S. with about 22% of babies being breastfed at 12 months here. It seems counterintuitive, given that one of the great supports Sweden gives to nursing mothers is their year of "mammaledig" - maternity leave. It makes me want to ask my Swedish friends more about how long they planned to breastfeed and when the cultural expectation is that they'll wean.

The researchers note that they don't know why breastfeeding is decreasing, because it hasn't been studied yet in relation to social and demographic factors. I've heard that "pappaledig" - paternity leave - has been increasing in popularity and fathers are increasingly taking a larger share of the time off. Could this be a contributor? Again, I'll have to investigate...