The members of the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative – Australia (WBTiAUS) welcome the Federal Government’s acknowledgement of the importance of breastfeeding to Australia’s mothers, infants and our whole community. The new and enduring Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy provides us with a thorough assessment of the current state of breastfeeding in Australia, much of which reflects the findings of the 2018 WBTiAUS report.
The 2019 National Breastfeeding Strategy is ambitious and extensive and demonstrates an understanding of the interaction of macro and micro forces that both enable and constrain Australian women from reaching their own breastfeeding goals.
Positively, there is attention paid in the Strategy to the need for a National Breastfeeding Committee, for the expansion of Baby-Friendly Hospital Accreditation and breastfeeding-friendly environments more broadly and for the pre-practice education of health professionals who are likely to care for breastfeeding mothers and babies in their everyday practice. There is interest in policy and regulation of human milk banks and in regular collection of data for national breastfeeding rates.
This new Strategy, however, is remarkably similar to the Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy published in 2010. That document resulted in minimal financial investment in the planned outcomes, and this new Strategy promises minimal investment too. There are over 300,000 births per year in Australia and the Strategy promises only $10 million dollars over 4 years: we are concerned that the Australian Government seems to believe that breastfeeding mums are only worth $9 each!
To learn more about the implementation of the previous strategy read this peer-reviewed analysis: Perspectives of key stakeholders and experts in infant feeding on the implementation of the Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy 2010-2015.
There is a powerful assumption in the new Strategy, but little formal acknowledgement of, the work done by committed volunteers for the Australian Breastfeeding Association. This work extends beyond the National Breastfeeding Helpline to local groups, professional development, advocacy and research involvement. Whilst the National Helpline is a vital service, support limited to funding this alone is a downstream approach to health. It is time for the Australian Government to focus on infant feeding through an upstream lens that fully commits to transforming support for breastfeeding at a macro level.
How can we as a nation expect to improve breastfeeding rates if there is no commitment to investment in data collection and analysis?
How can the formation of a breastfeeding advisory committee be realised without appropriate allocation of funding?
Funded breastfeeding services as they currently exist only help those women who are drowning. If we are truly committed to improving breastfeeding rates we need to teach women to swim.
As a nation who is truly committed to breastfeeding we need to continue to do more across the board to genuinely empower women during their pregnancy, birth and early parenting experiences to aspire to breastfeed, to initiate breastfeeding and to feel supported to do so, even, and perhaps especially, when they struggle to do so. We need to commit to finding a way to providing:
- Antenatal breastfeeding education for women and families,
- Pre-service health professional education about breastfeeding
- Baby Friendly Health Initiative accreditation for all hospitals and community health centres in Australia
- A fully commissioned review into the current state of MAIF with full implementation of the WHO Code,
- A minimum of six months paid maternity leave that allows women to enact current national exclusive breastfeeding recommendations,
- Governmental support for Breastfeeding Friendly Accredited workplaces and supportive childcare facilities.
International guidance is crystal clear about what needs to be done to support breastfeeding mothers and families. It is widely accepted that “breastfeeding is a smart investment in people and in economies“. A fabulous commentary from Assoc Prof Julie Smith, on what is needed in Australia can be found here.
This National Strategy gives a nod to those recommendations but at this stage fails to put money or a convincing plan behind it.
Breastfeeding. Fail. Again.
This new enduring National Breastfeeding Strategy talks the talk but fails to walk the walk.