In Catholic Countries, Women are Less Likely to Breastfeed

In Catholic Countries, Women are Less Likely to Breastfeed


Okay so here’s a weird story for the Catholics amongst us…


In countries with higher proportions of Protestants, breastfeeding rates tend to be higher.

So how are the Irish doing with the breastfeeding? In Ireland, 55% of Irish mothers breastfeed, the lowest among 27-high income countries.

So how Catholic are we? In the Republic, in the 2011 census, 84.2% of the population identified themselves as Roman Catholic. While we are still waiting for the next census results to come out, we do know this: The amount of people claiming to be Catholic is expected to fall markedly. However, it is still likely that the dominant religion is still Catholicism.

So yes, we fit the results, we are a largely Catholic country and we have low breastfeeding rates compared to many other developed countries.

It isn’t just the Irish Catholics who have low breastfeeding rates. It seems to be a “thing” in other Catholic countries as well. Just about every other developed Catholic nation is less likely to breastfeed than those in countries where Protestantism predominates. This is according to a study published in the online journal BMJ Global Health.

So how did the researchers find this out? They used publicly available data to look at breastfeeding rates and the proportions of Catholics and Protestants in 135 countries and in the regional areas of five Western countries: Ireland; the UK; France; Canada; and the USA.

The higher the proportion of Catholics in regions of France, Ireland, the UK and Canada, the lower were the breastfeeding rates in those regions. A similar association was seen among white women in US states after factoring in household income.

The researchers said, “Our results suggest that women living in a country or region where Catholicism has historically dominated are less likely to initiate breastfeeding, and that breastfeeding promotion policies should be adapted to better fit populations’ cultural and religious norms.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that women breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months and then partially until the child reaches the age of 2, but rates of breastfeeding vary widely among developed nations.

What is it about Catholic women that makes them more likely to bottle-feed their babies rather than breastfeed? We don’t know, yet… but what we do know is that when government bodies promote breastfeeding, they need to take into consideration that convincing Catholic women to breastfeed may need a different type of campaign.

Marketers and advertising gurus? It’s time to throw your hat in the ring.

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