Mothers ‘booby-trapped’ by lack of Societal and Governmental support for Breastfeeding

Breast feeding at risk due to poor Government policies, lack of societal awareness and education, and aggressive formula companies, research finds.

Health care professionals stress the importance of breast-feeding in high-income countries as new research has found that a near universal level of breast feeding could prevent 823 000 annual deaths in children under the age of five and 20 000 annual deaths from breast cancer.

According to a two-part breast-feeding series, released in January of this year by the Lancet, children who are breastfed for longer periods have lower infectious morbidity and mortality, fewer dental malocclusions, and higher intelligence than do those who are breastfed for shorter periods, or not breastfed. This inequality does not just occur in infancy, but also extends to later years in life.

However, despite these benefits for both mother and child, it has been discovered that high-income countries, such as Australia, have a shorter breast feeding duration than low to middle income countries. These women often do not receive the support they need to start, or continue, the practice of breast feeding, research has found.

The World Health Organisation (WTO) Maternal and Child Health care professionals, Jody Heymann, Amy Raub and Alison Earle said that returning to work is a contributing factor to these low rates in breast feeding.

“The difficulty of continuing to breastfeed under the conditions experienced when mothers return to work directly correlates with low levels of breast feeding,” Ms Raub said in the WHO’s annual report.

Federal and State legislation declare the discrimination of women breast-feeding in the workplace ‘unlawful.’  However, the onus is on the individual employee to negotiate with their employer around their individual breastfeeding needs and the organisational needs of the employer. The employer has the right to refuse to accomodate to the employee’s breastfeeding needs if they appear to be ‘unreasonable.’

Registered Nurse and mother, Rachyl Brooks, said that women need to be made aware of things like work safe and other bodies who are there to help them out if they have any quarrels with their employer who may not provide that [breastfeeding]service.

“[Although] most people and most workplaces…are pretty accomodating, [the current law] is open to exploitation,” Ms Brooks says.

The discrimination that is seen in the work place is the same one reflected in the general public, research has found.

According to primary school teacher and mother of two, Jodie Tieppo, there is a certain stigma attached to breastfeeding that is reflected in high-income societies ( such as Australia) that impacts mothers and their choice to breastfeed.

Before the data from the Lancet was released, “there was no real medical benchmark for what is ‘normal’ when it comes to breastfeeding. This has led to confusion from mothers on what is the best way to breastfeed, what the benefits of it are, and what is and isn’t a normal breast-feeding experience,” Ms Tieppo said.

Similarly, a culture has been created in high-income countries which encourages the use of formula rather than breastfeeding. Not breastfeeding is seen as the modern and sophisticated thing to do- it seems convenient as research shows that 57% of mothers choose to use formula after only a few weeks of breastfeeding.

Heavy advertising from baby formula companies has assisted in this culture, with data showing that advertisers have increased their marketing budget by 70%. According to research, although sales have levelled, formula companies have increased their overall ad spending to just over $45 million.

Paul Antonio, Dairy industry expert, says that the baby formula industry is experiencing rapid growth.

“That [above data] is because it’s a convenience factor, rather than a health factor,” Mr Antonio said.

Promoting breastfeeding in the governmental, societal and advertising sectors is important. It could possibly save and improve the lives of many mothers and children, according to the Lancet’s research.