August 09, 2001
"Breast is Best" is an expression today's 'Information Age' mums probably first heard from their mothers and it's as true today as it ever was. However only around 18 percent of Australian babies are still exclusively breastfed at 6 months, so there's still much to be done. Peta Newbold reports.
The theme of this year's Breastfeeding Awareness Month is "Breastfeeding in the Information Age" and given the amount of information available in the media and on the Internet about the benefits of breastfeeding, it can seem surprising more mums don't do it.
But sometimes breastfeeding isn't quite as straightforward as nature intends.
Firstly, there are the initial weeks with a first baby when confusion, fatigue and desperation reign supreme.
Fiona Woods from Glenbrook in New South Wales never dreamed it could be so hard. She'd read all she could on breastfeeding, she was fully committed and raring to go.
Then, something happened that nothing had prepared her for... cracked nipples and the agony of a hungry baby wrenching at raw tissue.
"I had had my baby Emily by caesarean section and that made me even more determined to breastfeed, to do it naturally", she said. "I just couldn't believe it when it didn't work out. I was almost at the point of sending my husband to the pharmacy for some formula."
When it gets too hard.
Many new mums get to that point and that's when some of them throw in the towel. The Australian National Health Survey in 1995 reported that approximately 81 percent of women are breastfeeding when they are discharged from hospital, but three months later that figure has dropped to around 57 percent.
There are all sorts of reasons for that according to Fiona Woods. She's now a counsellor for the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA), formerly the Nursing Mothers Association of Australia (NMAA) which provides breastfeeding information and support for mothers and families.
Discrimination at work.
"Anecdotally we find the most common reasons for women giving up breastfeeding are lack of support, and going back to work. Some employers still don't know it's possible to breastfeed and be successful in a job."
It was the fear of losing her freelance television job that prompted Sophie Liddel from Chatswood in New South Wales to return to work only seven weeks after her first child Lauren was born.
"In that climate of uncertainty I felt there was no way I was going to ask my employer for a private area to express milk.they would have just laughed. So I turned to formula and I've always felt bad about that. I think we both missed out - me and my daughter."
That was 10 years ago and although some women might claim things have hardly changed at all there are signs of movement. Employers are one of the target groups the Federal Government's National Breastfeeding Strategy has in its sights. In conjunction with the Australian Breastfeeding Association and other interested bodies, it is funding education programmes to promote breastfeeding in the community.
There are many good reasons to do this. The World Health Organisation (WHO) for instance recently issued a recommendation for exclusive breastfeeding for around six months and that's based on global research, which suggests that breastfeeding is beneficial for both mums and their babies.
Why breast is best for babies.
- Breastmilk contains all the nutrients a baby needs for the first six months.
- It helps bonding between mother and baby.
- The colostrum the baby receives in the first few days and breastmilk, contains antibodies which will help increase resistance to infection.
- It contains the Omega-3 fatty acid DHA, important in brain development.
- It may lower the risk of developing diabetes.
- It may also reduce the incidence of heart disease.
- It enhances eyesight, speech and jaw development.
- Reduces the risk of cot death.
- Reduces the likelihood of allergies.
- Reduces the risk of becoming an overweight child.
- It may increase a baby's pain threshold (for instance during immunisation).
It's also good for most mums.
- It saves money, fuel, energy and resources.
- Has contraceptive benefits for women who fully breastfeed.
- Many women return to their pre-pregnancy weight sooner.
- It lowers the risk of breast cancer.
- It builds stronger bones leading to less risk of osteoporosis later in life.
The natural way.
There are some medical conditions such as HIV or tuberculosis and some medications that can harm a breastfed baby. For them and those infants whose mothers choose not to breastfeed, formula is the way to go. It is vastly superior to cow's milk and there's no doubt most children thrive on it. However research has found that if women are supported they will breastfeed longer.
In her darkest hour Fiona Woods contacted the NMAA and was able to talk through her problem with a councillor over the phone. She discovered her baby hadn't been latching on properly.
Fiona now has four children, all of them breastfed, and Sophie also had another child three years later. By this time she had switched jobs and although she returned to work soon after, she found the new company's attitude was quite different.
"I had my own office and everyone learned that I was not available for 20 minutes around lunchtime. Once I got used to it, I expressed milk very easily and it helped ease the guilt I felt about leaving the baby with a sitter. I was so much happier with this baby," she said.
August 1st to 10th is Breastfeeding Week. The Australian Breastfeeding Association can be found at www.breastfeeding.asn.au. Or phone (03) 9885 0855
By Peta Newbold
Reprinted with permission from Editforce