Nursing mothers to get more support in 'breast is best' push
Mothers will be encouraged to feed their babies only breast milk for the first six months as part of an ambitious new national breastfeeding policy.
The goal would require a huge rise from present norms under which only 14 per cent of mothers fully breastfeed their babies to six months. Nearly half of mothers have abandoned reliance on breastfeeding only after three months.
Yet all of the evidence shows breastfeeding children for a longer period of time than is common in Australia has enormous health benefits.
Federal and state health ministers yesterday endorsed the strategy which calls for more community acceptance of breastfeeding in public, more support and training for mothers before and after delivery and increased access to parental leave.
A breastfeeding expert, Jennifer James, said government leadership was vital to making breastfeeding socially and culturally acceptable in Australia.
"But considering over a quarter of Australians think that breastfeeding in public is unacceptable, we know there is a long way to go,'' Dr James, a course co-ordinator in the Department of Nursing and Midwifery at RMIT University, said. She said particularly worrying was that many women in the 18-25 age group, tomorrow's mothers, disapproved of breastfeeding in public.
It appeared the change in attitudes among young women from previous generations was linked to the rise of the ''boob-flashing'' era and the sexual display of breasts .
''They become very numb to it [breastfeeding]. When you put it in the context of nurturing a baby, there is this yuk factor.''
She welcomed the recommendation for more support for mothers to begin breastfeeding by placing newborn babies in skin-to-skin contact with mother immediately after birth. Too often babies were taken away for jabs and checks after delivery, at odds with newborn babies' ''extraordinary capacity to find the breast, attach and feed''.
Support for workplaces to adapt to the needs of breastfeeding mothers was also essential ''if we are serious about boosting breastfeeding rates'', she said.
The Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, said Australia did not have high levels of breastfeeding compared to many other countries. ''Yet all of the evidence shows breastfeeding children for a longer period of time than is common in Australia has enormous health benefits both for the child and for the mother.''
The breastfeeding strategy for 2010-15 also aims to increase the numbers of mothers who continue breastfeeding their babies and supplementing with solids for 12 months and beyond.
The strategy document cites a 2004 study which found that while 92 per cent of newborns were initially breastfed, after one week only 80 per cent were fully breastfed and this rate fell steadily to 56 per cent after three months.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists welcomed the strategy but expressed disappointment the Government did not consult bodies like the college. Its president, Dr Ted Weaver, said hospitals needed to be adequately resourced to give women in difficulty access to obstetricians, lactation consultants and midwives.
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