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The World Health Organisation recommends that babies are exclusively fed breast milk up until six months of age, and then onwards breastfeeding should ideally continue alongside suitable weaning foods up until two years of age (1).

However the latest research from 2012 show that despite clear recommended guidelines, few Australian mothers choose to stick with breastfeeding long term. Although statistics indicate that 96% of new mothers initiated breastfeeding, the rates of exclusive breastfeeding dropped to 39% by three months and then 15% by five months of age (2).

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Hence in order to encourage new mothers to secure a successful breastfeeding relationship with their infants, more help and support should be given which extends beyond the six week post-natal period.

The benefits of breastfeeding

Breast milk offers many nutritional and immunological benefits for infants for as long as they nurse. Not only does it provide the baby with all the nutrients and vitamins they need for the first six months of their life, but it is also a way for the infant to acquire the antibodies the mother has in her body. Many studies have been carried out on the benefits of breast milk and researchers have come up with sufficient evidence to prove that breastfed babies will be less likely to suffer from conditions such as (3);

  • Respiratory illnesses
  • Ear infections
  • Meningitis
  • Stomach viruses
  • Allergic reactions to food
  • Childhood cancers
  • Childhood obesity

Mothers can also benefit from the breastfeeding relationship, as hormones produced during nursing will trigger the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin will promote relaxation, contraction of the uterus after birth for it to return to its normal state, and less postpartum bleeding. A study also found that mothers with high levels of oxytocin had controlled low blood pressure even after being prompted to discuss stressful problems.

The longer women choose to breastfeed, the more their bodies are protected against both ovarian and breast cancer. Research suggests this is down to oestrogen suppression, as a result of lactation and changes in the structure of breast tissues when a mother nurses (3).

The challenges of breastfeeding

Despite the countless benefits of nursing, a large number of mothers still choose to give up on breastfeeding or to not breastfeed at all. Although it is a question of personal choice, a majority of the worries and challenges breastfeeding mothers face can be easily solved with additional support from healthcare professionals.

Breastfeeding, although a completely natural process, is after all a learned skill and as the infant grows, the challenges that come with it also change as time progresses. The 2015 Lansinoh Breastfeeding Survey asked over 13,000 women across the world about the biggest issues and concerns they faced during breastfeeding. This survey acts as a huge indicator as to why so many mothers feel compelled to stop their exclusive nursing relationship. The top concerns cited are as follows (4);

  • Pain when breastfeeding
  • Learning how to breastfeed
  • Not knowing how often to feed baby
  • Incorrect baby latch

Although these are just a handful of concerns, they represent a dire need for additional support and regular interaction between midwives, health visitors, and lactation specialists with new mothers.

Ways to support breastfeeding

In order to support long term breastfeeding relationships, midwives and antenatal staff should repeatedly discuss in depth with pregnant women the numerous benefits and practicalities of breastfeeding. This method allows pregnant women to understand the concept and challenges that may present with breastfeeding so that they are well informed and will feel more confident in seeking help if they require it. Offering access and guidance towards educational videos, websites, and support groups also offers women a chance to learn and appreciate breastfeeding as a skill.

After a woman has delivered her baby and has expressed her interest in wanting to breastfeed her child, it is important that she is given appropriate guidance from midwives on the delivery ward until she is able to successfully feed her baby. The postpartum period spent in the hospital is a critical time for a mother to learn and build a strong base for her breastfeeding relationship with her child. Therefore any concerns, questions, and signs of hesitation from the mother should be addressed immediately by midwives before the mother feels a state of helplessness and regret.

Once mother and baby are discharged from hospital, healthcare staff should remain in regular contact and keep lines of communication open so that it is understood that help is always available. Mothers should also be directed towards breastfeeding support groups and twenty four hour helplines so that they can confidently communicate concerns or issues they are facing in a safe, confidential, and friendly manner.

Providing antenatal and postnatal women access to a strong, healthy, support system is key to ensuring long-term and confident breastfeeding relationships.



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