The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding (which refers to children only receiving breast milk and no other fluids, food, or water) for babies to 6 months of age, and to continue alongside suitable complementary foods for up to 2 years and beyond.
Current Australian breastfeeding statistics indicate that 96% of mothers initiate breastfeeding. However, while the nutritional, physical, and psychological benefits of breastfeeding are well understood, many mothers find it difficult to continue their breastfeeding journey.
- By 4 months, nearly 4 out of 5 babies still receive breast milk
- By 6 months, almost three quarters of babies still receive breast milk
- 1 in 3 babies are still exclusively breastfeeding to 6 months of age
So, why do breastfeeding rates gradually drop off, and fall short of WHO’s recommendations?
The reasons women stop breastfeeding or don’t exclusively breastfeed to 6 months varies, but commonly it comes down to the following barriers:
- Lack of knowledge about breastfeeding
- Lack of social and family support
- Discomfort in feeding in public
- Return to work and issues accessing supportive childcare
- Policies and practices in some health practices
- Promotion/marketing of infant formula
5 things we can all do to normalise breastfeeding
With the right strategies to address these barriers, we can support and normalise breastfeeding. Whether you’re pregnant, just starting your breastfeeding journey, bottle feeding, a business owner, or you’re a loved one or co-worker of someone who is breastfeeding, together we can make some important changes. Here are 5 things we can all do to normalise breastfeeding:
1. Breastfeed or pump in public
Western society’s sexualisation of the female body and the way it’s portrayed in the media can make breastfeeding in public an uncomfortable and embarrassing experience for many mothers. One of the best ways to beat the shame and judgement that some women face when feeding in public is head on. There’s strength in numbers.
Easier said than done sometimes, but have the courage to nurse or express whenever and wherever. The more mothers that do it, the less ‘taboo’ it will seem. There’s no need to cover up, but if you’d feel more comfortable, you could layer your nursing tops so that only a small amount of skin is exposed.
If you are returning to work, invest in a fast, efficient breast pump that will make it easier to express at work, preferably in a space that is comfortable for you either at your desk or a seperate space work provides you and definitely – not in the loo!
2. Join a local breastfeeding support group
Lack of support from family or friends, or their negative beliefs and attitudes towards breastfeeding, can affect a mother’s decisions about it. Surround yourself with all the positive support and information you can. Talk with other mothers about your journey: share how you overcame certain hurdles, what you’re struggling with, and what you love about it, because it will make everyone, including yourself, feel less alone.
Become a member of the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA), and go to one of their local support meet-ups. Women who have lactation issues are less likely to continue breastfeeding, so speak to a lactation consultant if you’re having any physical or emotional lactation challenges. They are a wonderful source of information and reassurance. Join a local New Parents Group, a playgroup, or mums and bubs classes to be a part of a ‘village’ of like-minded mums who are going through similar ups and downs as you.
3. Support breastfeeding in the workplace
More than half of mothers returning to the workforce at 6 months or earlier reduce or stop breastfeeding. Even if you don’t have children, or you’re a business owner, you can do your part to support mums who want to keep breastfeeding by becoming a Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace (BFW). The BFW program is an initiative developed by the ABA that assists employers to create a supportive environment, flexible working conditions, lactation breaks, and suitable facilities.
For more information about creating a BFW, visit the ABA’s website. For breastfeeding mothers returning to work, read the following articles:
4. Advocate for better community support
There are various things you can do in your own community that will make a huge difference to breastfeeding mothers, including:
- Ask your local childcare services how they support breastfeeding. Questions to ask them would include whether they have a comfortable space for you to feed (if you’d like to feed during the day, or at drop off/pick-up), or a room where you can pump and if there’s a fridge for you to safely store breast milk. Check the environment to see if it shows breastfeeding to be the normal way to feed babies, or whether there are posters or displays advertising infant formula.
- Encourage local businesses to become more breastfeeding friendly. Provide them with information about the ABA’s Breastfeeding Welcome Here program. It’s free to participate, and a good way for businesses to show their support and demonstrate their staff is welcoming, there’s room to move prams, and it’s a smoke-free environment. Ask businesses to also consider including baby care facilities, an area and toys dedicated to young children.
- Contact your local government with suggestions on how they can better support breastfeeding. For instance, providing breastfeeding facilities in developmental planning processes, at community events, or raising awareness about support services, and including breastfeeding information and a directory of support groups on their website.
5. Spread the word that breastfeeding is normal
Get on social media, websites, and blogs, and make your voice heard. Focus on the positives, and help find solutions rather than calling out the problems, starting with:
- Document your story and share your images of breastfeeding.
- ‘Like’ and repost images of other mums breastfeeding (with their consent).
- Advocate for companies that support breastfeeding, like those that make your favourite breast pump or nursing bra.
- Teach your children that it’s natural and normal. Use positive messaging so that they grow up knowing that a woman’s body isn’t to be judged or objectified.
- Follow social media accounts of mothers openly breastfeeding and advocating for normalisation.
- Send in your breastfeeding questions or wins for us to share on our Facebook page.
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