by TARA MOSS
On Friday I was honoured to open the 4th biennial Breathing New Life Into Maternity Care conference in Melbourne as part of my role as UNICEF Patron for Breastfeeding for the Baby Friendly Health Initiative (BFHI).
So, why breastfeeding and why do we need a baby friendly initiative in Australia?
The good news is that Australian women have the legal right to breastfeed anytime, anywhere their child needs it. The other good news is that our exclusive breastfeeding rate at the medically recommended six month mark has risen from 14% to 15% in the past year. This is great progress. Unfortunately though, that 15% exclusive breastfeeding rate is still half the world average and with the importance of breastfeeding now very well documented, the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and health practitioners nationwide are hoping to raise breastfeeding rates.
Consider this: The 2010 Infant Feeding Survey conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that more than 9 out of 10 mothers in Australia want to breastfeed.The Survey also found that the majority of women quit breastfeeding before they chose to.Our excellent breastfeeding initiation rate of 96% drops to only 15% at the recommended six months. It drops quickly and it drops quickest in lower socio-economic groups. Why? According to the Survey, the common reasons for not breastfeeding include ‘previously unsuccessful experience’, ‘so my partner can share feeding’ and ‘infant formula as good as breast milk’.
For women in some areas of Australia the importance of breast milk is well understood but a lack of breastfeeding support sees them forced to quit when common problems arise, leaving them frustrated and disappointed. For others, the differences between breast milk and formula, particularly the protective aspects of breast milk – like mum’s valuable antibodies and immune cells – are simply not understood.
We also know that return to work remains a major barrier for many breastfeeding mothers. A fantastic program called Breastfeeding Friendly Workplaces (unrelated to BFHI), encourages businesses to put basic protocols in place to allow breastfeeding breaks or to have a place to store expressed breast milk at work, all of which makes good ethical sense but also good business sense. But until more businesses become baby friendly and breastfeeding friendly, many women will continue to feel that they are faced with tough choices about how to combine breastfeeding and work.
A breastfeeding friendly culture is clearly important for Australia and Australian women want it. And a breastfeeding culture is not just a culture that supports the initiation of breastfeeding, but that also supports continued breastfeeding and everything that involves.