Breastfeeding awareness by Dr Hayley Glasson

August 1, 2022

World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated from the 1st to the 7th of August each year. In 2022 the theme is “Step up for Breastfeeding”. The aim is to inform, educate and empower the capacity of governments, health systems, workplaces and communities to provide and sustain breastfeeding-friendly environments for families in a post-pandemic world.

The benefits of breastfeeding are well known, both for the child (including reduced risk of infections, allergies, eczema, childhood cancers, SIDs and diabetes) and for the mother (including reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes). At a community level, the advantages are also clear. Breastfeeding lowers healthcare costs, decreases work absenteeism and is environmentally friendly with reduced use of natural resources and less landfill waste.

The WHO and UNICEF recommend early initiation of breastfeeding (within 1 hour of life), exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, and continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond. Under Australian Breastfeeding law, breastfeeding is a right, not a privilege. A mother can breastfeed wherever she happens to be.

Decisions to exclusively breastfeed, mix feed or formula feed are very personal, and the process can be extremely complex and emotional. Parents should be fully supported whichever method they use.

In Australia around 96% of women plan to breastfeed their baby from birth. By the end of the first 3 months, only 39% are continuing to breastfeed without a substitute. There are advantages to breastfeeding for any period of time, but it is clear that many women are unable to meet their initial hopes for breastfeeding.

Support for breastfeeding

As a community, there are many ways we can support parents who choose to breastfeed. Businesses can establish breastfeeding-friendly spaces, normalising breastfeeding in public. Workplaces can empower parents with strategies to combine breastfeeding and work, including offering appropriate paid maternity leave, setting up suitable breastfeeding or pumping facilities, and allowing regular breaks. In the home, partners and other family members can care for older children and share in household tasks. Even just bringing a glass of water to a thirsty mother will help!

Over the past few years, there have been significant advances in our understanding of breastfeeding. With the right support, many of the challenges of breastfeeding can be overcome, and things often become easier in time. Parents can find assistance from a variety of health professionals, including lactation consultants, midwives, maternal and child health nurses, and GPs with a special interest in perinatal medicine.

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For more information on the author, visit her bio: Dr Hayley Glasson