Systematic Review of Peer Support for Breastfeeding Continuation: Metaregression Analysis of the Effect of Setting, Intensity, and Timing

Kate Jolly, Department of Public Health, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Birmingham
Lucy Ingram
Khalid S. Khan
Jonathan J. Deeks
Nick Freemantle
Christine MacArthur


OBJECTIVE: To examine the effect of setting, intensity, and timing of peer support on breast feeding. DESIGN: Systematic review and metaregression analysis of randomised controlled trials. DATA SOURCES: Cochrane Library, Medline, CINAHL, the National Research Register, and British Nursing Index were searched from inception or from 1980 to 2011. Review methods Study selection, data abstraction, and quality assessment were carried out independently and in duplicate. Risk ratios and 95% confidence intervals were calculated for individual studies and pooled. Effects were estimated for studies grouped according to setting (high income countries, low or middle income countries, and the United Kingdom), intensity (<5 and>≥5 planned contacts), and timing of peer support (postnatal period with or without antenatal care), and analysed using metaregression for any and exclusive breast feeding at last study follow-up. RESULTS: Peer support interventions had a significantly greater effect on any breast feeding in low or middle income countries (P<0.001), reducing the risk of not breast feeding at all by 30% (relative risk 0.70, 95% confidence interval 0.60 to 0.82) compared with a reduction of 7% (0.93, 0.87 to 1.00) in high income countries. Similarly, the risk of non-exclusive breast feeding decreased significantly more in low or middle income countries than in high income countries: 37% (0.63, 0.52 to 0.78) compared with 10% (0.90, 0.85 to 0.97); P=0.01. No significant effect on breast feeding was observed in UK based studies. Peer support had a greater effect on any breastfeeding rates when given at higher intensity (P=0.02) and only delivered in the postnatal period (P<0.001), although no differences were observed of its effect on exclusive breastfeeding rates by intensity or timing. CONCLUSION: Although peer support interventions increase breastfeeding continuation in low or middle income countries, especially exclusive breast feeding, this does not seem to apply in high income countries, particularly the United Kingdom, where breastfeeding support is part of routine postnatal healthcare. Peer support of low intensity does not seem to be effective. Policy relating to provision of peer support should be based on more specific evidence on setting and any new peer services in high income countries need to undergo concurrent evaluation.