Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Graph of the year? Mother's education and breastfeeding

Its that time when people reflect on the year gone by, lists of pivotal events, dead celebs etc. There are also lots of suggestions for "graph of the year" going round. It's pretty arbitrary of course since it depends on what people find interesting. Graphs are great but they have the potential to mislead since, by their nature, they are simple but evocative.
Anyway, here is one I find very striking. It graphs the rate of breastfeeding initiation (i.e. whether the child is breastfed at all) by their mother's education level using the Growing Up in Ireland data. It is one of the most pronounced socio-economic gradients I have come across. A child whose mother is a graduate has about a 77% chance of being breastfed. At the other end of the scale it is a staggering 17%. If, instead of looking at "ever" you look at a duration of "6 weeks+" the story is much the same.
Note that the average (i.e. the % ever breastfed, using sampling weights) is about 45% which is way lower than pretty much anywhere else I have looked at. The US and UK data are in the low 70's. Many countries are higher. Why there is such a low average and such a steep socio-economic gradient in Ireland I don't know. But given the benefits to mother and child it should be a matter for concern - and action.

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