2.3.5 Percentage of Canadian women aged 18 to 55 years who initiated breastfeeding and exclusively breastfed for 6 months, by household income, Canada, 2009-2012

Q1 - Lowest Q5 - Highest
Initiated breastfeeding 82.7 91.5
Breastfed exclusively for 6 months 24.9 31.5

Source: CICH graphic created using data adapted from Towards a Healthier Canada – Health Inequalities Data Table, Health Inequalities Data Tool, A joint initiative of the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Pan-Canadian Public Health Network, Statistics Canada and the Canadian Institute of Health Information.Breastfeeding, initiation – Women aged 18-55 years, who breastfed or tried to breastfeed their last child (including short duration). Breastfeeding, exclusive – Women aged 18-55 years who breastfed their child exclusively for at least the first 6 months of life (the child received only breast milk, without any additional liquid or solid food). Data: Canadian Community Health Survey, 2009-2012.

Women living in the highest income households are more likely to initiate breastfeeding than are women in the lowest income households.

32% of women living in the highest income households were able to continue to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months, compared with 25% of women in the lowest income households.

The reasons why women living in poverty are not initiating or continuing breastfeeding are complex. A recent study suggests mothers who cannot afford enough food are more likely to stop breastfeeding before other mothers, even though nearly all begin at a similar rate. The research concluded that financially vulnerable women struggle significantly more to breastfeed and need more government support. The study found that 86% of women living in poverty tried to breastfeed, but more than half stopped before two months, while half of the more financially secure moms stuck with it for at least four months. They reported trouble affording enough food for themselves and their family, which sometimes included other children. They were likely undernourished themselves, and suffering considerably stress. They likely struggled to pay rent and afford other necessities.

Source: Orr SK, Dachner N, Frank L, Tarasuk V. Relation between household food insecurity and breastfeeding in Canada. CMAJ. 2018;190(11):E312-E319.