A surprising share of both Jewish and Arab women ignore public health recommendations to put infants to sleep on their backs, abstain from smoking during pregnancy and avoid feeding young children candy, uncut grapes and hot dogs.

These statistics, part of a preliminary report on the results of a national Health Ministry survey on infant nutrition and care up to their first birthday, were collected from September 2009 to June 2012 and released by the ministry on Wednesday.

A total of 2,119 new mothers – 1,074 Jews and 1,045 Arabs – participated in the survey and were interviewed during pregnancy and when their babies were two, six, 12 and 24 months old.

Asked if they planned to breastfeed their babies, 88.4 percent of the Jewish women said yes, compared to 97.7% of their Arab counterparts, while 9.8% of the Jews and 1.4% of the Arabs said they did not; the rest were undecided.

Queried about whether they tried to nurse their babies in the delivery room, 42.2% of Jews and 39.2% of Arabs said they did, while a quarter of the Jews and a third of the Arabs said this was not suggested by the nurse, even though it is highly recommended. Fully 63.9% of the Jews and 49.6% of the Arabs reported that they had asked to solely breastfeed during their hospital stay. But in actual practice, 64.7% of the Jewish and 74.6% of the Arab newborns were given baby formula at least once in the hospital (probably at night).

Two months after delivery, 70.9% of the Jews and 87.2 % of the Arabs were still breastfeeding, but only 61.4% of Jews and 47.5% of Arabs were not also using formula. At six months, 51.5% of the Jewish women were breastfeeding, and 22.5% were not giving formula; data among Arab women were 64.6% and 12.3% respectively. At age one year, 26.8% of Jewish babies and 36.9% of Arab babies were still breastfeeding, at least partially.

At age one, 18% of the Arab babies were drinking cow’s milk a few times a day, compared to 5.8% of the Jewish babies, even though this is permitted according to health experts. At this age, 79.4% of the Jewish babies and 60.6% of the Arab babies were fed formula.

Dangerous feeding behavior was found in regard to a surprising number of yearold babies. Of the 18.6% of Jewish babies and 28.3% of the Arabs who ate hot dogs at this age, just 83.3% of the Jewish infants and 60.7% of the Arab babies ate them only after their parents sliced the hot dogs. The rest were served whole.

A similar story occurred when eating grapes. Of the two-thirds of Jewish babies and 46.3% of Arab babies who ate grapes, 4.5% of the Jews and 13.7% of the Arabs ate them whole; this can easily lead to choking. More than 3% of Jewish babies and 37% of Arab babies received candy and 1.4% of the Jews and 15.6% of the Arab babies ate popcorn, which are also dangerous because of the choking danger.

Moreover, almost a fifth of pregnant Jewish women and 1.5% of their Arab counterparts admitted to being smokers.

Of those, 40.7% of the Jews and 77.8% of the Arabs continued to smoke during at least part of their pregnancies.

Other risky health behavior was that only 51.8% of Jewish women and 19.9% of Arab women put their babies to sleep in the supine position, which is recommended to lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

The ministry concluded that the breastfeeding rate is increasing, yet there is much room for improvement, especially in encouraging women to nurse for longer periods. The fact that many women are not properly feeding their babies or putting them in the right sleeping position meant that proper behavior must be explained more thoroughly in well-baby (tipat halav) clinics, it said.

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