Early initiation of breastfeeding: a systematic literature review of factors and barriers in South Asia

Indu Kumari Sharma, Abbey Byrne

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Early or timely initiation of breastfeeding is crucial in preventing newborn deaths and influences childhood nutrition however remains low in South Asia and the factors and barriers warrant greater consideration for improved action. This review synthesises the evidence on factors and barriers to initiation of breastfeeding within 1 h of birth in South Asia encompassing Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Studies published between 1990 and 2013 were systematically reviewed through identification in Academic Search Complete, CINAHL, Global Health, MEDLINE and Scopus databases. Twenty-five studies meeting inclusion criteria were included for review. Structured thematic analysis based on leading frameworks was undertaken to understand factors and barriers.

Factors at geographical, socioeconomic, individual, and health-specific levels, such as residence, education, occupation, income, mother’s age and newborn’s gender, and ill health of mother and newborn at delivery, affect early or timely breastfeeding initiation in South Asia. Reported barriers impact through influence on acceptability by traditional feeding practices, priests’ advice, prelacteal feeding and discarding colostrum, mother-in-law’s opinion; availability and accessibility through lack of information, low access to media and health services, and misperception, support and milk insufficiency, involvement of mothers in decision making.

Whilst some barriers manifest similarly across the region some factors are context-specific thus tailored interventions are imperative. Initiatives halting factors and directed towards contextual barriers are required for greater impact on newborn survival and improved nutrition in the South Asia region.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Breastfeeding Journal
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Breastfeeding
  • Barriers
  • Factors
  • Early initiation of breastfeeding
  • South Asia
  • Timely initiation of breastfeeding
  • Breastfeeding within 1 h of birth
  • Colostrum
  • Review


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