Research Handbooks in Law and Economics series
Edited by Lloyd R. Cohen and Joshua D. Wright
Tiffany Green and Katherine Dickinson 1. INTRODUCTION Over the course of a child’s life, parents and caregivers make numerous decisions that impact future health and well-being. One of the first and most basic choices is what to feed an infant in her early days, months, and years. While current dialogue within maternal wards in hospitals, public health campaigns, and the research community often frames this as a dichotomous choice of “breast vs. bottle”, these decisions are in fact more nuanced and complex. Rather than a simple, one-time choice to “breastfeed or not”, infant feeding is a series of decisions about what and how to feed a child over the first two years of his or her life. At birth, a mother must decide whether to initiate breastfeeding or give her baby some alternative. If the child is unable to breastfeed, is the “best” decision to feed her formula or expressed breast milk? If the child is breastfed initially, how long should breastfeeding continue? At what age should parents introduce complementary foods? While infant feeding practices have varied across and within countries over time (Ryan et al. 2002; Wolf 2003; UNICEF 2009), the current consensus in the medical and public health community is that children should be breastfed at birth, continue to breastfeed exclusively for the first 4–6 months, and receive breast milk along with complementary foods up to 12–24 months of age (see Box 8.1 for a summary of infant feeding recommendations and targets). These recommendations are based...
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