Australian dietary guidelines recommend babies are fed breast milk exclusively for around six months, but the 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey: Indicator results shows that only 15% of survey participants are meeting this recommendation.
Dr Amir says that this has been misinterpreted in some media reports to mean that the numbers of mothers’ who are breastfeeding has declined.
‘People should not be discouraged by this figure or assume that more Australians prefer bottle feeding.
‘That figure is for what we call exclusive breastfeeding,’ she says. ‘This is where a baby is fed with breast milk only.
‘Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for at least six months but it is unusual for mothers in any country not to combine breast milk with other supplements. People just hear the “15% at six months” and think that the use of breast milk is declining when in fact the reverse is true.’
The same research found that 96% of infants started breastfeeding just after birth; 60% were receiving at least some breast milk at 6 months, which is an increase on the 50% figure in the last national survey in 2004.
Dr Amir says that the use of certain terminology and the complexity of the research has led to the confusion. However she is not critical of the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing’s use of terminology.
‘The language the researchers used had to be exact because it is hoped that this research will be form a baseline for future studies. While the area is well researched there is a need to measure changes in behaviour similar to that in the United Kingdom, where data are collected every five years.’
However Dr Amir says that the research is a reminder that some women are more likely not to breastfeed or to give up breastfeeding earlier than recommended.
‘Fifty-six per cent of women who gave up breastfeeding cited “not enough milk” as a reason. Mostly this is due to lack of confidence in breastfeeding rather than true insufficient milk.
‘Only 18% of these babies are receiving breast milk at 13 to 18 months. The World Health Organisation recommends continuing breastfeeding into the second year, but this message isn’t getting out,’ said Dr Amir.
‘Of women who didn’t breastfeed, 16% said they wouldn’t be comfortable breastfeeding in public. So it’s apparent that public campaigns are needed to let people know that it is okay to breastfeed anywhere.’
Dr Amir added that indigenous women, younger women, women with less years of schooling, and overweight or obese women are all less likely to breast feed.
Zerin Knight Ph (03) 5444 7375 F (03) 5444 7526 M 0428 463 161 E firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom O’Callaghan, Ph (03) 5444 7415 F (03) 5444 7526 M 0408 900 469 E T.OCallaghan@latrobe.edu.au