The ELFE study:
first findings on breastfeeding in french maternity clinics

Seven in ten women breastfeed their babies at the maternity clinic, according to the first findings of the ELFE study, which is following over 18,000 children born in 2011. The data on breastfeeding were collected in maternity clinics. The results by parents’ characteristics and pregnancy and delivery conditions are as follows:

The practice of breastfeeding in France has increased considerably since the 1970s.

According to survey data, 70% of mothers breastfeed their newborns at the maternity clinic, representing a sharp rise in the practice since the 1970s. Fifty-nine per cent (59%) of women in maternity clinics breastfeed only while 11% also bottle-feed.

  • According to the ELFE study, older women of normal body weight who belong to relatively high socio-economic categories represent the highest proportion of breastfeeding mothers. Women born abroad often breastfeed, as do women who took birth preparation classes and who did not smoke during pregnancy. Breastfeeding seems to be more frequent when the father is involved and present at delivery, and among married couples.
  • On the other hand, breastfeeding at the maternity clinic is less prevalent among mothers with an intermediate level of education, who did not take a birth preparation class or who smoked while pregnant, as well as when the new parents are young, unmarried, born in France, unemployed or not seeking employment, and positioned relatively low on the social scale.
  • The rate of breastfeeding in maternity clinics varies significantly by season of birth. It is higher for babies born in the spring (72.8%) than those born in fall (69.4%) or summer (70.1%).
  • Babies born by cesarian section, transferred for monitoring or health reasons, or belonging to a set of twins are less often breastfed, as are premature or underweight newborns.  
  • The proportion of breastfed children is relatively high when both parents were born abroad (90.8%) and relatively low when both were born in France (65.5%). The rate for mixed unions falls between these two, though it is higher when the mother (rather than the father) was born abroad (88.0%, as opposed to 76.7%).

To further promote breastfeeding, then, the researchers propose involving fathers more and making it possible for more women to take delivery preparation classes (70% of women manual workers did not take such a class in 2011, as opposed to 27% of women managers, for example).

A new phase of the survey was launched on October 21, 2014, as ELFE cohort children reached age 3 and a half. It aims to collect more detailed information on early childhood, either by telephone or, for the first time, interviews in respondents’ homes. The success of this new phase will depend on the investment of the participating families and their conviction of the importance of this research, which will be pursued until their child turns 20. Conducted by INED and INSERM in partnership with the EFS, this study will comprise several stages, from data collection to researchers’ publication of their results.


Source: BEH n°27 du 07 octobre 2014, Prévalence de l’allaitement à la maternité selon les caractéristiques des parents et les conditions de l’accouchement. Résultats de l’enquête Elfe maternité, France métropolitaine, 2011, par Claire Kersuzan et coll., Institut national de la recherche agronomique (Inra)

Online: November 2014