Social Influences on Breastfeeding Behaviors: Examining Media, Interpersonal, Social, and Intrapersonal Variables

Date of Completion

January 2011


Psychology, Social|Speech Communication|Health Sciences, Nutrition|Health Sciences, Public Health|Mass Communications




Exclusive breastfeeding for infants under six months old remains an elusive public health goal. This study seeks to examine the relationships between communication and psychological factors and breastfeeding behaviors. The factors considered include mediated communication (infant feeding exposure in various media and celebrity endorsements); social support from family, peers, partners, medical providers, and workplace; and attitudes and emotions. The outcome variable, breastfeeding behaviors, includes breastfeeding duration, six months of exclusive breastfeeding, and duration of exclusive breastfeeding less than six months. Women (N = 499) residing in the U.S. ( M age = 31, age range: 18-46 years) who had at least one child between the ages of 8 weeks and 3 years completed an online survey. Ninety-seven percent of women surveyed reported initiation of breastfeeding their children. Among the women who breastfed, only 45% breastfed exclusively for six months. Attitudes towards breastfeeding convenience were the strongest predictors of all breastfeeding behaviors analyzed in this study, for both the general sample and women who work outside the home. Other important predictors were partner support, friends' attitudes, and emotions toward breastfeeding. Thus, the results suggest that future research and public health interventions to increase rates of women exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months should aim to improve attitudes of convenience, emotional reactions to breastfeeding, and peer norms. ^