Several studies have investigated the association of breastfeeding status with offspring mortality in Africa, but most studies were from one center only or had limited statistical power to draw robust conclusions.
Data came from 75 nationally representative cross-sectional Demographic and Health Surveys in 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa conducted between 2000 and 2016. Our study relied on 217 112 individuals aged 4 days to 23 months for breastfeeding pattern analysis, 161 322 individuals aged 6 to 23 months for breastfeeding history analysis, and 104 427 individuals aged 12 to 23 months for breastfeeding duration analysis.
Compared with children aged 4 days to 23 months exclusively breastfed in the first 3 days of life, those not breastfed had a high risk of mortality at <2 years of age (odds ratio [OR] = 13.45; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 11.43–15.83). Young children who were predominantly breastfed or partially breastfed had moderately increased risk of mortality at <2 years of age (OR = 1.11, 95% CI = 1.03–1.21 for predominant pattern; OR = 1.12, 95% CI = 0.99–1.27 for partial pattern). Compared with children aged 6 to 23 months who were breastfed within the first 6 months of life, those not breastfed had a high risk of mortality (OR = 5.65; 95% CI = 4.27–7.47). Compared with children aged 12 to 23 months who were breastfed for ≥6 months, those who were breastfed for shorter periods had a higher risk of mortality (OR = 2.78, 95% CI = 1.45–5.32 for duration of <3 months; OR = 5.28, 95% CI = 3.24–8.61 for those who were not breastfed).
Our findings support exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months of life and continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age recommended by the World Health Organization for reducing mortality of children <2 years old in sub-Saharan Africa.