For all the focus on and debate around breastfeeding, you may be surprised by how few Aussie mums are actually still doing it by the time their babies hit four months old.
New figures show 39.2 per cent of Aussie babies are breastfed exclusively by four months of age. ACT mums lead the way, with half still feeding their bubs four months in. At the other end of the scale, in Western Australia the figure is 36.7 per cent. The Children’s Headline Indicators report, funded by the federal Health Department, shows babies are more likely to be breastfed in inner-regional or higher socioeconomic areas, or when their parents are born in Australia.
Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor Jessica Leonard says about 97 per cent of mums start breastfeeding, but there is a steep drop-off from three to six months, and again after six months when many babies are introduced to solids. However, in the three- to six-month period, many parents do continue to partially breastfeed, supplementing breast milk with formula.
“That’s the time where we see mums are tending to have a real struggle with breastfeeding,” she says. “It’s not easy for all mums to access services to help them to breastfeed. There might be a waiting list, it might be a few weeks before they can see someone face to face – and you want to see someone in 24 hours if you are having breastfeeding trouble. There are some mums who will give up before six months – they’ve reached their goal, they’re happy with the amount of time they’ve brestfed; but there are also a lot of mums who wanted to breastfeed longer but haven’t been able to get through the difficulties.”
She says women in higher socioeconomic areas often have better access to help, such as private lactation consultants, and are therefore able to push through any problems. “Seeing a lactation consultant can be really expensive. If you are able to continue it can be cheaper in the long run but it’s a bit of a gamble to pay someone out of your own pocket for someone to help you get through it,” she says.
Ms Leonard says the ABA hopes to roll out a Google Glass program it trialled recently, which lets mums talk to a counsellor via a “wearable computer” that allows the counsellor to see what the mum is seeing. “That’s hopefully something we can use to support mums in remote areas,” she says. She also encourages mums to learn about breastfeeding and support services available well before giving birth.
The headline indicators also show that 12.9 per cent of women smoke during pregnancy. Again, ACT mums-to-be lead the way, with 8.9 per cent puffing while pregnant. A staggering one in four pregnant women in the Northern Territory smoke. Across the board, women are more likely to smoke if they are under 20, indigenous, or living in remote or lower socioeconomic areas.
The report also shows that more than a quarter of children aged five to 14 are overweight. Children are more likely to be overweight if they are in a single-parent family or in lower socioeconomic areas. In better news, infant mortality rates have decreased from 4.7 deaths per 1000 live births in 2006 to 3.3 in 2012. The indicators help drive children’s health policy.