What does the upcoming Australian election have to do with breastfeeding?

Featured image artist Katie M. Bergrenn (found http://naturealmom.com/tag/breastfeeding-art/)

Australians will go to the polls on May 18th for our Federal Election. Some people know exactly who they are voting for and why, while others like to make decisions around issues that are important to them. Regardless, if you know that how babies are fed is important, you may like to meet with your local political candidates. You could ask them what they have done and what they are going to do to get a fully funded and comprehensive breastfeeding strategy in place in Australia as recommended by the 2007 Best Start Report.

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We will help by giving you a summary of what really needs to change in Australia to ensure that families are well supported to breastfeed their babies for as long as they wish.

  • Maternity care and health professional education – must be free of commercial influence, and Baby Friendly Health Initiative (BFHI)  should be funded in all states and territories through increased health grants.
  • Breastfeeding information and how to support breastfeeding families should be compulsory for all pre-service curriculums (without the influence of industry) for all health professions, especially paediatricians, nurses and obstetricians.
  • Ending inappropriate promotion of breastmilk substitutes with full implementation of the WHO Code, legislated, publicly monitored and enforced by penalties in breaches as updated by our representatives at the World Health Assembly in 2016, and ESPECIALLY enforced in maternity and newborn care facilities which are the PRIMARY marketing channel for breastmilk substitutes – creating unacceptable conflicts of interest in the care of vulnerable new mothers and babies.
  • Appropriately funded policies for supporting all mothers to breastfeed as recommended by the World Health Organisation’s Infant feeding Guidelines – exclusive breastfeeding to six months of age and continued breastfeeding with introduction of solid food to two years and beyond. Even Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, but we don’t support women to do that by not providing adequate (6 months or more) maternity protection in the form of Paid Parental Leave.
  • Six months paid maternity leave plus, and part-time to twelve months, are shown to work in assisting employed new mothers to balance breastfeeding and work.
  • Ongoing and adequate federal funding for operation of the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) National Breastfeeding helpline (currently unfunded past June!).
  • Ongoing and adequate funding for ABA’s Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace (BFWA) program, along with the development of a ‘breastfeeding friendly childcare award’ development.
  • We measure what we value yet breastfeeding is still missing in action from Australia’s major health and work surveys.

ALL of these things were recommendations of the previously mentioned Best Start Report but ten years later have not happened. Sadly industry stands to gain more – they even say themselves that they would lose sales if women were supported to stay home from work longer (See: Euromonitor Report on Baby Food Sales Australia).

… remembering, that as long ago as 2002, it was estimated that just four of the common infectious illnesses cost the Australian hospital system over $100 million dollars,  attributable to lack of support for exclusive breastfeeding to 6 months.

And remembering too that the World Health Organisation estimates that Australia loses at least 6 BILLION dollars a year in lost national income and productivity because our future workers and parents have reduced cognitive development, school attainment, work producers and earnings and life capability from not being sufficiently breastfed

Protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding is not easy …But it is worth it in the end!

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For a succinct list of the recommendations made by the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTI) Australian Team see our report card here – this is easy to print out and take with you when you speak with your local candidates.

Dr Julie Smith is an ARC Future Fellow and Professor (Associate) in the Menzies Centre for Health Policy. Until 2014 at the Australian Centre for Economic Research on Health (College of Medicine, Biology & Environment), she led ARC funded projects on the economics of breastfeeding and markets in mothers milk with a time use study of new mothers, and on breastfeeding support in workplaces and childcare. Previously she worked in Australian and New Zealand treasury and finance departments.

Naomi Hull RN, IBCLC, MPH (Nutrition) is an RN and IBCLC from Brisbane and recently attained a Masters of Public Health (Nutrition) at the University of Queensland. During her Masters of Public Health, her interest in the ‘bigger picture’ grew stronger and for this reason, chose to look at the implementation of the Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy (2010-2015) as the topic of her Dissertation. Naomi continues to feel strongly about finding a way to improve the breastfeeding experience for families by way of affecting policy change in Australia. Most recently she has coordinated the World Breastfeeding trends Initiative assessment of Australia.