Informal Meeting on the Development of a Methodology for the Surveillance of Breastfeeding, Geneva, 2-4 February, 1981.
A fundamental part of the World Health Organization's (WHO's) task of biannually reporting on the steps taken by the organization to promote breastfeeding and to improve infant and young child feeding will necessitate the regular collection of statistical information on the prevalence and duration of breastfeeding in the different Member States. The purpose of this document is to outline the following: the rationale for the collection of breastfeeding data; a summary of the scientific methods by which these data can be collected; a module which can be attached to ongoing surveys; and a protocol which can be used by national field workers in conducting surveys specifically on the subject of breastfeeding. Information on trends in breastfeeding is important because it can be used to provide a valuable insight into a variety of maternal and child health issues and serve as a useful health and social indicator. Changes in the prevalence and duration of breastfeeding reflect the attitudes of mothers toward infant care, their knowledge on infant feeding, their concept of family life, time, and work, and their relative exposure to different sources of information concerning the advantages and disadvantages of breastfeeding. There are 2 major ways of collecting epidemiological information--a tool for assessment of breastfeeding practices--surveillance and surveys. Potential sources of information are vital statistics, hospital records, postnatal clinic records, market research, national health/nutrition surveys, and fertility surveys. The core breastfeeding module should contain the minimum number of questions required to assess the prevalence and duration of exclusive and partial breastfeeding along with key demographic questions designed to describe breastfeeding in terms of time, place, and person. Suggested items are listed. The development of a standardized protocol/study design which, with modification, can be adapted to national conditions and needs, will facilitate surveys and permit the comparability of data. The details of survey development are reviewed.