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Department of Anthropology

Academic Staff

Publication details for Prof Helen L. Ball

van den Berg, Martina & Ball, Helen L. (2008). Practices, advice and support regarding prolonged breastfeeding: a descriptive study from Sri Lanka. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology 26(3): 229-243.

Author(s) from Durham


Practice and duration of breastfeeding were examined in relation to traditional practices and modern recommendations on infant care in Sri Lanka. Semi-structured interviews were conducted among 60 Sri Lankan mothers whose youngest child was 0.5-4 years. The results show that all mothers had breastfed their infants. Most respondents introduced additional foods at 4 months, as recommended by local public health services. The median age at cessation of breastfeeding was 2.9 years, in line with public health advice. Doctors were reported to oppose breastfeeding during a subsequent pregnancy. Eighty-two percent of mothers practised habitual bed-sharing with their children. Nighttime breastfeeding frequency was 4.8 times per night for infants aged 0.5-1 year and declined gradually over the next 3 years. Maternal working status did not influence the overall duration of breastfeeding. Sri Lankan mothers and infants were confronted with several factors opposing their breastfeeding relationship, notably near full-time work and the early introduction of additional foods. Even though exclusive breastfeeding was ended prematurely, the majority of mothers and infants managed to sustain a prolonged breastfeeding relationship. Mother-child bed-sharing and associated nighttime breastfeeding is proposed as an important factor supporting continued breastfeeding.