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'Concerning' number of people ignorant about breastfeeding

19 March, 2014

Research from Curtin University has discovered a concerning amount of people, especially men, acknowledge that breastfeeding is important to a child's health – but struggle to identify the reasons why.

As part of a Healthway-funded project, researchers from Curtin analysed data from five nutrition monitoring surveys conducted by the Western Australian Department of Health in 1995, 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2009.

The surveys included information from 4,802 WA adults in answer to three breastfeeding-related questions:

  • What do you think are the benefits of breastfeeding for babies?
  • What do you think makes it difficult for women to continue to breastfeed their babies for at least six months?
  • What do you think would make it easier for women to continue to breastfeed their babies for at least six months?

Research co-author Dr Christina Pollard, from Curtin's Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Technology, said the responses exhibited a lack of understanding of the benefits of breastfeeding.

As well as being acknowledged as the ideal food for infant growth and development, breast milk has been shown to reduce the risk of children becoming obese or developing high cholesterol or high blood pressure later in life.

"There is no doubt the public thinks breastfeeding is important. But many people don't know why this is the case," Dr Pollard said.

"The recommendation to exclusively breastfeed children until around six months of age has been adopted by many countries, including Australia. But one in 15 people surveyed were not able to mention any benefits of breastfeeding.

"Twenty per cent of those surveyed were only able to list one benefit and less than half of the men were able to list two benefits.

"It is also clear more needs to be done to educate the community on the short and long-term benefits of breastfeeding, both for infants and mothers."

Co-author and Curtin Adjunct Research Fellow Alison Daly said responses regarding barriers to breastfeeding were also eye-opening.

"The 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey found that just 14.8 per cent of WA mothers reported breastfeeding exclusively to six months of age and less than half breastfed at all after six months," Daly said.

"It's somewhat surprising then that our data showed the mean number of barriers identified by women was only two.

"The main barrier identified to breastfeeding of children for more than six months was the need to go back to work, which clearly shows there are actions workplaces could take to assist women to breastfeed once they return to employment.

"Compared with men, women were 60 per cent more likely to report having to return to work as a barrier to breastfeeding and 25 per cent more likely to nominate family support as an enabler."

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