FEATURES

Supporting women to breastfeed

Professor Amanda Lee

Senior Adviser, The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre
The Sax Institute

Breastfeeding infants exclusively to around six months, and continuing up to 12 months and beyond as solids foods are introduced, provides clear benefits for both the infant and the mother. Supporting women to continue to breastfeed is key to improving rates of breastfeeding. 

The NHMRC Infant Feeding Guidelines provide information on how best to ensure parents, carers and infants get the support they need to follow these recommendations.

It is recommended that infants be exclusively breastfed until around six months of age. Around this age solids can be introduced while continuing to breastfeed. Breastfeeding should be continued until 12 months of age and beyond, for as long as the mother and child desire.

Professor Amanda Lee, previous Chair of the Infant Feeding Guidelines sub-committee of the Australian Dietary Guidelines Working Committee said, ‘the recommendations are associated with optimum infant nutrition and the best health outcomes for the infant and the mother, in both the short and longer term.’

‘Australian breastfeeding initiation rates are good at over 90%, but there is a big drop off in the first three months. To have only 15% of infants exclusively breastfed at 5 months of age is a little bit of a worry. We also need to focus on increasing duration of any breastfeeding, given only 25% infants are receiving any breastmilk at all at 12 months,’ she said.

‘The purpose of the Guidelines is to support optimum infant nutrition by providing robust review of evidence and clear guidance on infant feeding for health workers and parents/carers.’

Since 1981, Australia has been one of the few developed countries in the world to include a guideline related to breastfeeding in its food-based dietary guidelines.

‘This recognises that most Australians can have a role in encouraging, supporting and promoting breastfeeding,’ Professor Lee said.

‘That’s really something to celebrate – we have been a leader internationally in promoting breastfeeding.’

Breastfeeding rates tend to reflect the cultural norms in society—for example, whether breastfeeding is valued within families.

‘There does seem to be a shift in public acceptance that breastfeeding is the normal way to feed our infants. For example, people are more accepting of mother’s breastfeeding in public places. Broader public acceptance can help encourage increased breastfeeding rates in Australia,’ Professor Lee said.

‘Breastmilk is really a unique and amazing food. Science is constantly discovering more and more protective and growth supporting factors in breastmilk. 

‘Women need to be supported to be more confident that their breastmilk is of sufficient quality and quantity to flexibly meet their infants’ growth and changing needs.’ 

There are very clear support mechanisms that can be put in place to help mothers to breastfeed, particularly in those first few days. 

‘Health workers need to be more aware of, and increase their use of these guidelines,’ she said.

‘Any breastfeeding is beneficial for the mother and the infant. With appropriate support the vast majority can breastfeed.’

Reference: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2011, 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey: Available here.