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To (i) identify and describe prevailing infant feeding policy documents in five diverse European countries; (ii) analyse types of health outcomes for the infant that are associated with feeding breast milk rather than formula milk in the documents of different countries; and (iii) assess the extent to which documents reflect the WHO global recommendation of exclusive breast-feeding for 6 months.
Documentary review and analysis.
Five geographically dispersed countries of Europe (England, Finland, Germany, Hungary and Spain).
Policy documents on infant feeding were identified; statements that linked choice between breast- and formula-feeding to a health outcome for the infant were extracted.
Twenty-six documents (varied authorships, dates, length and character) were identified: four from England; two from Finland; nine from Germany; six from Hungary; and five from Spain. There was no consistency in the way in which health outcomes were cited as factors in the recommendations for breast- rather than formula-feeding. Seven documents contained no reference to the health implications of infant feeding choice. Of 203 statements in remaining documents citing health outcomes, 24·1 % mentioned general health effects, 32·5 % protection against infections, 31·5 % long-term conditions (e.g. diabetes, CVD) and 11·8 % mentioned allergy. Health outcomes were linked to exclusive breast-feeding in only 25 % of statements.
Policy documents in the study countries varied in the extent to which they reflect the health outcomes for the baby of breast-feeding, and this may limit effective promotion by health professionals. There is scope to improve the process of bringing evidence and recommendations into policy documents.
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