Community urged to promote breast start to life
Western Australians are being urged to embrace breastfeeding in the community and workplace.
Health experts say breastfeeding aids cognitive development and that breast-fed infants are less likely to develop obesity and other health conditions later in life, while their mothers too derive important health benefits.
But Department of Health Nutrition Policy Advisor Christina Pollard says that although Western Australians do well at starting out breastfeeding, they do not continue for sufficient time to obtain the greatest benefit.
On the eve of World Breastfeeding Week, Dr Pollard revealed that more than 40 per cent of West Australians were not breastfeeding their babies beyond six months of age—well short of Australian Dietary Guidelines.
"For about the first six months of its life, a baby should be breastfed exclusively," she explained.
"Breastfeeding should continue for a further six months at least while the baby is introduced to other foods."
Dr Pollard said that while duration of breastfeeding appeared to be linked to the mother's knowledge of its benefits, returning to the paid workforce and poor public acceptance were known factors in cutting short this important period in a child's life.
"Research has shown that public attitudes really influence how comfortable a woman feels about breastfeeding her baby," she said.
"That is why it is so important that breastfeeding is valued and promoted in our community.
"Workplaces also have an important role to play and can support nursing mothers by providing time and facilities to enable breastfeeding at work.
"There is very strong evidence that breastfeeding not only reduces the baby's risk of becoming obese later but also made it less susceptible to other health conditions including high cholesterol, diabetes, allergies and gastrointestinal, respiratory and middle-ear infections.
Dr Pollard said the benefits of breastfeeding were not confined to the baby.
"Breastfeeding promotes the mother-child bond, can protect the mother from diseases later in life and help her to lose weight gained during pregnancy," she said.
"When we promote breastfeeding we are not just promoting healthier mothers and children, we are promoting a healthier community."
Dr Pollard said any mother experiencing difficulties breastfeeding should contact their local child health nurse.
World Breastfeeding Week runs from August 1 to 7.