Breastfeeding outcomes in late preterm infants: A multi-centre prospective cohort study

Amy Keir, Alice Rumbold, Carmel T. Collins, Andrew J. McPhee, Jojy Varghese, Scott Morris, Thomas R. Sullivan, Shalem Leemaqz, Philippa Middleton, Maria Makrides, Karen P. Best

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Objectives To describe (1) infant feeding practices during initial hospitalisation and up to 6 months corrected age (CA) in infants born late preterm with mothers intending to breastfeed, (2) the impact of early feeding practices on hospital length of stay and (3) maternal and infant factors associated with duration of breastfeeding. Methods We conducted a prospective cohort study of infants born at 34+0 to 36+6 weeks gestational age during 2018-2020. Families were followed up until the infant reached 6 months of age (corrected for prematurity). Feeding practices during the birth hospitalisation, length of initial hospital stay, and the prevalence of exclusive or any breastfeeding at 6 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months CA were examined. Associations between maternal and infant characteristics and breastfeeding at 6 weeks, 3 months and 6 months CA were assessed using multivariable logistic regression models. Results 270 infants were enrolled, of these, 30% were multiple births. Overall, 78% of infants received only breastmilk as their first feed, and 83% received formula during the hospitalisation. Seventy-four per cent of infants were exclusively breastfed at discharge, 41% at 6 weeks CA, 35% at 3 months CA, and 29% at 6 months CA. The corresponding combined exclusive and partial breastfeeding rates (any breastfeeding) were 72%, 64%, and 53% of babies at 6 weeks CA, 3 months CA, and 6 months CA, respectively. The mean duration of hospitalisation was 2.9 days longer (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.31, 5.43 days) in infants who received any formula compared with those receiving only breastmilk (adjusted for GA, maternal age, multiple birth, site, and neonatal intensive care unit admission). In multivariable models, receipt of formula as the first milk feed was associated with a reduction in exclusive breastfeeding at 6 weeks CA (odds ratio = 0.22; 95% CI 0.09 to 0.53) and intention to breastfeed >6 months with an increase (odds ratio = 4.98; 95% CI 2.39 to 10.40). Intention to breastfeed >6 months remained an important predictor of exclusive breastfeeding at 3 and 6 months CA. Conclusions Our study demonstrates that long-term exclusive breastfeeding rates were low in a cohort of women intending to provide breastmilk to their late preterm infants, with approximately half providing any breastmilk at 6 months CA. Formula as the first milk feed and intention to breastfeed >6 months were significant predictors of breastfeeding duration. Improving breastfeeding outcomes may require strategies to support early lactation and a better understanding of the ongoing support needs of this population.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0272583
Number of pages11
JournalPLoS One
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Infant feeding practices
  • Breastfeeding
  • Breastfeeding rates
  • Cohort study


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