Breastfeeding, a shared responsibility
It’s world breastfeeding week, and my social media feed is filled with posts related to this years theme of breastfeeding being a shared responsibility. These largely focus on practical strategies that partners, extended family and friends can implement to help the breastfeeding parent, and these are hugely important. But as I sit here in the thick of it, breastfeeding my 4 week old baby whilst trying to entertain my toddler, I can’t help but feel the shared responsibility needs to be looked at in the bigger picture. Breastfeeding is often challenging: I have successfully breastfed previously and I spend my professional life assisting new parents with their babies, and I still have experienced a significant learning curve whilst establishing feeding with my new baby. More needs to be done to support parents who don’t have the benefit of the experience that I do.
We know in Australia 90% of new Mums initiate breastfeeding, but by 5 months of age only 30% of babies are exclusively breast fed. Surely we have a shared responsibility to improve that statistic? Starting with medical schools incorporating lactation education into their curriculum so our medical professionals have basic knowledge to support their patients. We absolutely cannot deny the need for consistent, evidence based breastfeeding support for our new Mums. Don’t we have a responsibility to educate those caring for women, to reduce the anecdotal advice, the outdated advice, and the advice that’s just plain wrong? The health system has a responsibility to provide access to high quality lactation support to those who need it, which is sadly lacking at the moment, especially for women in rural and remote regions. We also have a responsibility to minimise the mixed messages, by restricting the marketing of infant formulas to health professionals and parents, whilst still supporting those who choose to or need to formula feed.
Our shared responsibility doesn’t end once breastfeeding has been successfully initiated. As a community we need to support breastfeeding anywhere, anytime. We need to have access to clean, private feeding facilities for those who prefer to feed in private. Employers need to support Mum’s who are still breastfeeding when they return to work, with protected breaks and facilities to express breast milk or have their baby brought to them to feed.
I am proud and heartened to be part of a movement of health practitioners working to improve their own knowledge of lactation and to provide high quality, evidence based support to be families. But we still have so far to go, with minimal investment in lactation education and research. I will continue to advocate to improve breastfeeding support for those who want it. It’s my responsibility.
Dr Lauren Wilson completed her undergraduate studies at The University of Queensland in biomedical science and developmental biology, before moving to Griffith University to complete her Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of surgery. She completed her residency at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, The Prince Charles Hospital and Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital (now Queensland Children’s Hospital), spending extended time working in Obstetrics & Gynaecology and Paediatrics and completing diplomas in both fields.
Possums & Co. www.possumsonline.com, is a charity which educates health professionals in the evidence-based Neuroprotective Developmental Care (NDC) or Possums programs, including the Possums Baby and Toddler Sleep Program