Breastfeeding rates in Australia…what’s happening?

It’s amazing.

When I wasn’t looking, all of a sudden (it feels like), breastfeeding initiation rates in Australia are 96%.

96% of women are starting off breastfeeding their babies, according to the latest numbers in the Australian National Infant Feeding Survey (published in 2011).

Just saying, that’s up there with many of the Northern European countries. The latest US figures are 85% and UK 78%, which have increased significantly in the past ten years.

Which is all good news, right?


So what’s making all the public health peeps scratchy about breastfeeding rates?  It’s just that the women who start breastfeeding aren’t continuing to breastfeed in great numbers after they leave hospital.

Six months of breastmilk straight up, neat, no additives, no preservatives. That’s what confers the most health benefits for babies worldwide.  After that, the World Health Organization suggest starting other foods for babies, alongside breastfeeding, for two years, or as long as mum and baby are happy to continue.

In Australia, 15% of babies are being exclusively breastfed in their 6th month (ANIF, 2011).  A few of the remaining 85% will have just started having food, which is ok, but most will have been having infant formula, with or without breastfeeding.

Is that ok?

Yes and no. The most health benefits are in the setting of babies having breastmilk only for the first six months. On the other hand, there are health benefits to babies having any breastmilk. 

Bit of a bind really.

The challenge is to have babies getting only breastmilk for longer, for the public health benefits this provides across the population.

Does anyone have any ideas how to achieve this?  I’ll write some more about this in this week’s blog: more babies being breastfed for longer.


Del Katherine Barton

You are what is most beautiful about me a self portrait with Kell and Arella
You are what is most beautiful about me a self portrait with Kell and Arella

Just wanted to post this very fine painting. It sits well with my “maternal feminist” point of view.

Barton won the Archibald prize for it in 2008.

I loved that at the prize ceremony she had her two kids with her … her son had one eye bung with conjunctivitis … blurrgh.

She said of the portrait: “this painting celebrates the love I have for my two children and how my relationship with them has radically informed and indeed transformed my understanding of who I am”.

Oh and she won another Archibald last year with “Hugo”.

Check out her amazing, detailed, decorative, at times disturbing, organic images.

Why do a PhD?

You get that look … you know the one … their face contorts into a pretzel shape (without the salt) … then they say: “oh, you poor thing.”

I’m telling people at a random social gathering that I’m starting a PhD.

The people who know me a little better, who have had the long chats and emails with me about the reasons why more women don’t breastfeed for longer, or have read my multiple Facebook shares of the amazing properties of breastmilk, or have witnessed my frustrations with poor support for breastfeeding mothers, or come along to ABA meetings with me … they smile and say: “of course you’re doing a PhD, and yeah, I know it’s about breastfeeding – what else could it be?”.

I’m doing this study because I want to change the world.

Well, I’m doing it because I want to learn how to do research, and what’s the point of doing research if you can’t create change?

So don’t feel sorry for me, because I am in a very fortunate position.

For the last 18 years I’ve been very interested in breastfeeding. When I was a student midwife, I spent lots of time with women on the postnatal ward, watching midwives help them attach their babies, watching them attach their babies, watching their babies feed, agonising when they decided to stop breastfeeding before they left hospital (despite all my slightly creepy watching!) …wondering when I would be able to actually help any of these women with all… this.

When my eldest child was born, I started learning a bit more. She was a post-term induction, born with her own polo neck sweater (cord around 3 times, tightly) … and I am proud to say that I had grazed nipples when I left the hospital 24 hours later. Ouch. What a midwife.

A kindly lactation consultant helped me attach her firmly and painlessly about 5 days later.  Her words: “this will make you a better midwife Jen”. Damn tootin.

And so a monster was born (that’s me).

For the last six months I’ve been reading about breastfeeding, thinking about breastfeeding, writing notes and mind maps and emails about breastfeeding. All with permission.

So don’t feel sorry for me.

I just hope all this will be enough to change the world … maybe just a little bit.


wobbly introduction

Hi there blog world.

It’s me.

I’m a midwife and a lactation consultant and, as it happens, now a PhD student.

I’m starting this blog for a couple of reasons:

1. shameless self promotion

2. to get into the discipline of writing about issues that I’m studying and doing research into.

3. to share a little of the experience of being a PhD student.

4. to have a place to direct my tweets to…!

5. to share links on the subjects of breastfeeding, midwifery, pregnancy, childbirth and mothering.  And to write about these topics too.

So be patient with me.  It’s my first time. The design part of this might take a bit of time and outsourcing. But hopefully the material will always be rewarding.