Child, Youth, and Family Studies, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Human Lactation (2015), doi: 10.1177/0890334415592850


Copyright © 2015 Ellen J. Schafer, Natalie A. Williams, Siri Digney, Marion E. Hare, and Sato Ashida. Published by SAGE Publications. Used by permission.


Background: Infant feeding takes place within a network of social relationships. However, the social context in which infant feeding advice is received remains underresearched.

Objective: The objective of this study was to evaluate the social contexts of infant feeding by examining individual and relationship characteristics of mothers and network members associated with advice to exclusively breastfeed, exclusively formula feed, or use a combination of breast milk and formula.

Methods: Information about 287 network members was reported by 80 low-income mothers during a one-time survey. Characteristics of relationships associated with mothers receiving advice (exclusively breastfeed/formula feed, combination feed) from each network member were identified using 2-level logistic regression analyses.

Results: Mothers had greater odds of receiving advice to exclusively breastfeed from network members who help make feeding decisions (odds ratio [OR], 2.44; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.35-4.42), exclusively breastfed their own child or children (OR, 6.99; 95% CI, 2.96-16.51), and were health care providers (OR, 4.82; 95% CI, 1.70-13.67). Mothers had greater odds of receiving advice to breastfeed in combination with formula from network members who provided emotional support (OR, 2.45; 95% CI, 1.31-4.55), combination fed their own child or children (OR, 4.85; 95% CI, 1.80- 13.05), and had an opinion that was important to the mother (OR, 2.67; 95% CI, 1.13-6.33). Mothers had greater odds of receiving advice to exclusively formula feed from network members who exclusively formula fed their own child or children (OR, 2.23; 95% CI, 1.07-4.66) than those who did not.

Conclusion: Social relationship characteristics and network members’ infant feeding experiences may have implications for the advice new mothers receive. Future research should investigate social contexts of infant feeding longitudinally to inform interventions.