Comfort with the idea of formula feeding helps explain ethnic disparity in breastfeeding intentions among expectant first-time mothers

Laurie A. Nommsen-Rivers, Caroline J Chantry, Roberta J. Cohen, Kathryn G. Dewey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


Objectives: Little is known regarding modifiable factors that may explain sociodemographic disparities in breastfeeding rates among women in the United States. Using a mediation model approach, we examined the relative contributions of breastfeeding and formula feeding psychosocial factors in explaining disparities in breastfeeding intentions. Methods: We interviewed 532 expectant first-time mothers regarding exposure to breastfeeding by others (breastfeeding exposure), comfort with ideas of breastfeeding (breastfeeding comfort) and formula feeding (formula feeding comfort), and breastfeeding self-efficacy. We used logistic regression to evaluate the independent and mediating effects of these variables on strength of intention to fully breastfeed for 6 months (breastfeeding intention). Results: The ethnic distribution of the sample was 41% white, non-Hispanic; 27% Hispanic; 14% African-American; 12% Asian; and 6% mixed or other ethnicity. In the overall sample, formula feeding comfort, breastfeeding comfort, and breastfeeding self-efficacy all independently predicted breastfeeding intention (p < 0.0001), but formula feeding comfort had the largest effect: adjusted odds of stronger breastfeeding intention increased threefold for each 1-level decrease (among four levels) in formula feeding comfort. The unadjusted odds (95% confidence interval) of stronger breastfeeding intention were 0.37 (0.24-0.58) for African-American versus non-African-American women; African-American women had higher formula feeding comfort (2.08 [1.32-3.29]) but similar breastfeeding comfort, breastfeeding self-efficacy, and breastfeeding exposure. Formula feeding comfort mediated 37% of the disparity in breastfeeding intentions between African-American and non-African-American women. Conclusions: Formula feeding comfort strongly predicted and substantially mediated ethnic disparity in breastfeeding intention. These results suggest that research and public health efforts aimed at increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates should include consideration of formula feeding attitudes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-33
Number of pages9
JournalBreastfeeding Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Maternity and Midwifery
  • Pediatrics
  • Health Policy


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