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Short Breastfeeding Duration in France, According to the WHO

“It is recommended to breastfeed your babies until the age of 6 months. Scientific research has even shown the positive effects of breastfeeding today. It goes beyond nutrition, as it is a way to communicate with the child. The benefits of breast milk are numerous.”

In the 1990s, the average duration of breastfeeding for babies in France was 8 to 10 weeks. Currently, it is around 4 months, which is still too short compared to the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Scientists from the University Paris-Descartes and Inserm even indicated, in a study delivered in September 2015, that despite the increase noted since 1990, the duration of breastfeeding in France still falls far short of meeting the recommendations of the National Nutrition and Health Program (PNNS).

WHO Recommendations

During the first six months of a baby’s life, it is necessary to breastfeed to meet all their nutritional needs. Whether it’s the mother’s well-being or the infant’s health, breastfeeding is known to have beneficial effects. That’s why the WHO recommends partial breastfeeding up to the age of 2 years and exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months. Additionally, this organization also emphasizes the need for potential nutritional supplements like fruit juice or water, even though breastfeeding should take precedence. The PNNS recommends exclusive breastfeeding for a minimum of 4 months, but ideally, it should be extended to 6 months. It’s important to note that the primary goal of the PNNS is to improve the overall health of the population by addressing one of its major determinants: nutrition.

Factors to Consider

According to the research conducted, it has been established that most French women (about 70%) start natural breastfeeding immediately after their baby’s birth. This proportion drops to 53.8% only one month after the child’s birth. After 6 months, the percentage of mothers who continue breastfeeding decreases to 19.2%, and only 9.9% of them adhere to the WHO recommendations regarding breastfeeding up to 6 months.

According to the same study, the current average duration of breastfeeding is 17 weeks (approximately 4 months), compared to 8 to 10 weeks in the past. Factors related to employment, family situation, culture, and education significantly hinder this practice. Mothers with a vocational certificate (BEP), a vocational aptitude certificate (CAP), or those who completed their education at the high school level breastfeed for a shorter duration. This also applies to French women who are single or in unmarried couples and mothers under the age of 30. Women who are slightly overweight or smoke are more likely to discontinue breastfeeding prematurely. The most diligent French mothers in terms of breastfeeding are those on parental leave who held managerial positions before giving birth. It’s worth noting that the mentioned research followed 18,000 babies born in France in 2011 for one year. The study was published in the BEH (Bulletin épidémiologique hebdomadaire) of the Institute for Public Health Surveillance. The findings show that there is still much progress to be made.

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