Despite the suggested health benefits of breastfeeding for infants and mothers,
France has one of the lowest rates regarding breastfeeding initiation and duration in the world. Few
studies have been performed concerning the extent of breastfeeding practices in France since the
middle of the 20th century, or regarding the mothers’ practices from initiation to cessation. The
purpose of our study is to determine trends in breastfeeding over the past decades and to examine
mothers’ perceptions about factors known to have an impact on breastfeeding support and cessation.
29,953 parous women from the French NutriNet-Santé cohort were included in the
prsent study. Using web-questionnaires, they were asked retrospectively if they breastfed or not
their youngest child, and if so, the duration of the exclusive and total breastfeeding. For those who
had breastfed, we investigated their perceptions about support at initiation and during the entire
breastfeeding period and the reasons for breastfeeding cessation. We also asked those who did not
breastfeed about their perceptions on non-breastfeeding their youngest child and the reasons for
choosing to bottle-fed him or her. Analyses were weighted according to the French census data.
67.3% of mothers in the NutriNet-Santé cohort breastfed their youngest child. The
proportion of breastfed children increased tover the past few decades, from 55.0% (95%CI: 54.3 –
55.6) in the 1970s to 82.9% (82.4 – 83.4) in the 2010s. Mean total breastfeeding duration was 4.7
months (4.5 – 5.0) while exclusive breastfeeding duration was 2.8 months (2.7 – 2.9). Mothers felt
supported at initiation and over the breastfeeding period. 59.5% of mothers reported a desire to have
breastfed more than 2 months longer. Mothers who did not breastfeed did it by choice (64.3%).
They did not feel guilty (78.2%) and did not perceive a problem not to breastfeed (58.8%), but
almost half of them would have liked to breastfeed (45.9%).
Breastfeeding duration has increased in the past decades but did not reach the public
health recommendations threshold. Other targets than mothers have to be considered, like the father
and her environment, to increase breastfeeding practices.
The study was registered at ClinicalTrials.gov (NCT03335644).