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Mothers with disabilities less likely to start breastfeeding



Mothers with intellectual or developmental disabilities are less likely to initiate breastfeeding and to receive in-hospital breastfeeding support than are those without a disability, new data suggest.

In a population-based cohort study of more than 600,000 mothers, patients with an intellectual or developmental disability were about 18% less likely to have a chance to initiate breastfeeding during their hospital stay.

“Overall, we did see lower rates of breastfeeding practices and supports in people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as those with multiple disabilities, compared to people without disabilities,” study author Hilary K. Brown, PhD, assistant professor of health and society at University of Toronto Scarborough in Ontario, told this news organization.

The study was published in The Lancet Public Health.

Disparities in breastfeeding

“There hasn’t been a lot of research on breastfeeding outcomes in people with disabilities,” said Dr. Brown, who noted that the study outcomes were based on the WHO-UNICEF Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative guidelines. “There have been a number of qualitative studies that have suggested that they do experience barriers accessing care related to breastfeeding and different challenges related to breastfeeding. But as far as quantitative outcomes, there has only been a handful of studies.”

To examine these outcomes, the investigators analyzed health administrative data from Ontario. They included in their analysis all birthing parents aged 15-49 years who had a single live birth between April 1, 2012, and March 31, 2018. Patients with a physical disability, sensory disability, intellectual or developmental disability, or two or more disabilities were identified via diagnostic algorithms and were compared with individuals without disabilities with respect to the opportunity to initiate breastfeeding, to engage in in-hospital breastfeeding, to engage in exclusive breastfeeding at hospital discharge, to have skin-to-skin contact, and to be provided with breastfeeding assistance.

The investigators considered a physical disability to encompass conditions such as congenital anomalies, musculoskeletal disorders, neurologic disorders, or permanent injuries. They defined sensory disability as hearing loss or vision loss. Intellectual or developmental disability was defined as having autism spectrum disorder, chromosomal anomaly, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or other intellectual disability. Patients with multiple disabilities had two or more of these conditions.

The study population included 634,111 birthing parents, of whom 54,476 (8.6%) had a physical disability, 19,227 (3.0%) had a sensory disability, 1,048 (0.2%) had an intellectual or developmental disability, 4,050 (0.6%) had multiple disabilities, and 555,310 (87.6%) had no disability.

The investigators found that patients with intellectual or developmental disabilities were less likely than were those without a disability to have an opportunity to initiate breastfeeding (adjusted relative risk [aRR], 0.82), to engage in any in-hospital breastfeeding (aRR, 0.85), to be breastfeeding exclusively at hospital discharge (aRR, 0.73), to have skin-to-skin contact (aRR, 0.90), and to receive breastfeeding assistance (aRR, 0.85) compared with patients without a disability.

They also found that individuals with multiple disabilities were less likely to have an opportunity to initiate breastfeeding (aRR, 0.93), to engage in any in-hospital breastfeeding (aRR, 0.93), to be exclusively breastfeeding at hospital discharge (aRR, 0.90), to have skin-to-skin contact (aRR, 0.93), and to receive breastfeeding assistance (aRR, 0.95) compared with patients without a disability.


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