Breastmilk as we all know is the ideal food for infants because it not only nourishes them, it also protects them from illnesses. Exclusive breastfeeding provides ideal nutrition and supports optimal growth and development for the first six months. Gradual introduction of solid foods in the second half of the first year should complement the breastmilk diet.
Australia’s breastfeeding initiation rate is 96% (NHMRC, 2013, Infant Feeding Guidelines). However, only a small proportion of women achieve the goal of exclusively breastfeeding to around 6 months (NHMRC, 2013, Infant Feeding Guidelines).
The role we each play to support breastfeeding is important to increase Australia’s breastfeeding duration rates. What can we all do to create an enabling environment for women to breastfeed successfully?
Studies show that if partners are supportive of breastfeeding, the mum is ten times more likely to succeed! Here are five things dads can do to support breastfeeding partners:
- Refrain from suggesting formula at the sign of first difficulty- think of other strategies to try first.
- Support mum when she feeds your baby in public, rather than asking her to cover up or go somewhere else to nurse.
- Help her to relax, with a shoulder rub, or taking over baby care while she showers.
- Encourage her to get help when she needs it, whether from a lactation consultant or another health professional.
- Be patient with her emotions. One minute she may seem fine, and the next she may be crying. Just listening to her or keeping her company with patience is sometimes enough.
Grandmothers’ support can have a powerful effect on breastfeeding. Grandmothers that are in tune with their daughters (and sons) can greatly reduce stress and promote rest.
- Stay with mum for extra support for the first few days after delivery, especially if mum is having a hard time getting around.
- Hold the baby while mum showers, eats a meal, or gets some sleep.
- Help older children feel special and important during this time of change by giving them attention and praise.
- Help mum and dad cook, take care of household chores and errands.
- Comfort mum if she feels pressured to host visitors by limiting guests and encouraging her to rest and concentrate on breastfeeding in the early days after delivery.
Lots of new mums will share their experiences with other mums that they meet with their new baby. But old friends are just as important and if you are supportive of breastfeeding you will help her immensely.
What can you do?
- Don’t assume that she will want to be alone/in private to feed her baby – most women hate being locked away on their own – she will probably want to chat and talk to you as normal.
- Offer to help, by making her more comfortable or getting her a drink.
- Don’t ask when she is going to give up breastfeeding and ‘regain her body’ – support her in her decision to breastfeed for as long as she wants to.
- If you are going out together, it’s often nice to go to a venue which is welcoming of breastfeeding mums (see https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/services/welcome/venues).
May women mistakenly think they cannot breastfeed if they plan to return to work after childbirth, and as such they may not talk to their employers about their desire to breastfeed and how breastfeeding can be supported in the workplace. Onus is on the individual employee to negotiate with their employer around their individual breastfeeding needs. Employers are obligated by the federal law to take reasonable measures to accommodate these needs.
These are the three main criteria that determines a supportive work place:
- Space – The organisation provides a private space for employees to feed their baby or express milk.
- Time – The organisation has a breastfeeding policy that clearly outlines the support for lactation breaks to allow a mother time to feed/express during working hours.
- Support – The organisation has a comprehensive communication strategy in place for internal and external stakeholders. Supportive breastfeeding employees includes all the practical factors, but it importantly also means developing a cultural shift in your organisation to a workplace with a truly supportive breastfeeding environment. The cultural shift is achieved through a clear communication strategy and other workplace initiatives.
Employers are encouraged to purchase and work through the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s comprehensive toolkit to implement these three criteria in your workplace.
When your child starts care, you should be able to make arrangements with your childcare service to help you keep breastfeeding your baby. You can either keep breastfeeding your child or provide your child with expressed breastmilk while he/she is in child care.
You childcare provider:
- cannot refuse your application for a childcare place, or not offer you a place, because your child is breastfed
- cannot ask you to stop breastfeeding when your child starts in care
- must let you breastfeed or express milk on the premises
- cannot refuse to feed your expressed breastmilk to your child
The truth is sometimes breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally and mothers deserve help in solving them. Many sources of assistance are available, such as certified lactation consultants and other clinicians. At St Vincent’s Private Hospital Melbourne, we run breastfeeding clinics, led by IBCLC-qualified lactation consultants, to help mothers navigate the challenges of breastfeeding and this service is free for all patients. Patients can return to the breastfeeding clinic until their baby is 12 months of age.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) runs the National Breastfeeding Helpline 1800 mum 2 mum (1800 686 268). The Breastfeeding Helpline is available 7 days a week. It is staffed by trained, volunteer counsellors who answer calls on a roster system in their own homes.
You can breastfeed and express anywhere that suits you and your baby. You do not need to ask permission. It is your right.