Background: Breastfeeding provides optimal and complete nutrition for newborn babies. Although new mothers in Hong Kong are increasingly choosing to breastfeed their babies, rates of exclusive breastfeeding are low and duration remains short. The purpose of this study was to describe the breastfeeding and weaning practices of Hong Kong mothers over the infant's first year of life to determine the factors associated with early cessation. Methods: A cohort of 1417 mother-infant pairs was recruited from the obstetric units of four public hospitals in Hong Kong in the immediate post-partum period and followed prospectively for 12 months or until weaned. We used descriptive statistics to describe breastfeeding and weaning practices and multiple logistic regression to investigate the relationship between maternal characteristics and breastfeeding cessation. Results: At 1 month, 3 months, 6 months and 12 months only 63%, 37.3%, 26.9%, and 12.5% of the infants respectively, were still receiving any breast milk; approximately one-half of breastfeeding mothers were exclusively breastfeeding. Younger mothers, those with a longer duration of residence in Hong Kong, and those returning to work postpartum were more likely to wean before 1 month. Mothers with higher education, previous breastfeeding experience, who were breastfed themselves and those who were planning to exclusively breastfeed and whose husbands preferred breastfeeding were more likely to continue breastfeeding beyond 1 month. The introduction of infant formula before 1 month and returning to work postpartum were predictive of weaning before 3 months. Conclusions: Breastfeeding promotion programs have been successful in achieving high rates of breastfeeding initiation but the focus must now shift to helping new mothers exclusively breastfeed and sustain breastfeeding for longer. Copyright © 2010 Tarrant et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.