Breastfeeding - a learned skill
Breastfeeding, while natural, is a learned skill. For thousands of years new mums had watched their own mothers, aunties and sisters breastfeed and had a large family and community around to help them learn this skill.
Nowadays, many new mums have not seen a baby breastfed until they have their own. They may live apart from family and their mothers and aunties may not have breastfed. They are not able to learn by example as in the past.
Breastfeeding can be challenging in the early days for many mothers. How do you hold your baby and make sure they attach correctly? Is it supposed to hurt? How often should your baby be feeding? How do you know if your baby is getting enough milk?
The early days and weeks are a learning period for both mother and baby. Happily, with the right support and information, most women do breastfeed successfully.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) is a voluntary organisation that supports and educates mothers who wish to breastfeed their babies. It also raises awareness of the importance of human milk.
ABA was founded in Melbourne in 1964 (as the Nursing Mothers' Association), with the primary aim of giving mother-to-mother support to breastfeeding women.
ABA's voluntary breastfeeding counsellors are experienced mothers who have completed an intensive training program and have successfully breastfed their own children.
The association helps over 260,000 mothers every year. With about 300 local groups around Australia and 24-hour help lines in each state, all mothers have access to support and information.
In the past, many mothers were led to believe there was an equal choice between breastfeeding and artificial feeding (sometimes called bottle-feeding or feeding infant formula). It was felt that breastfeeding was not that important and artificial baby milk was just as good.
Research has shown this is not the case. In fact, we now know breastfeeding is very important for babies and mothers.
Babies need breastmilk for optimal development: physically, mentally and emotionally. Breastmilk contains all the nutrients a baby needs for at least the first six months of their life and continues to be the most important part of their diet throughout the first year.
Breastmilk is a living fluid, constantly changing to meet the needs of the growing baby. Breastfeeding is important for the health of babies because they have immature immune systems and breastmilk provides them with their mother's antibodies and other defence factors.
Non-breastfed babies have more illnesses. For instance, they are five times more likely to go to hospital with diarrhoea and twice as likely to be hospitalised with a chest infection.
Breastfeeding provides optimal development for infants' eyesight, speech, jaw and oral cavity. The unique combination of fatty acids and other components in breastmilk contribute to optimal brain development.
Australian Breastfeeding Association Breastfed babies are easy to take out. There is no need to carry special equipment or find places to warm bottles. Babies can be breastfed anywhere a mother is legally allowed to be.
Breastfeeding helps mothers' bodies return to their pre-pregnant state more quickly. Many women also find they lose excess weight while breastfeeding. Women who have not breastfed their babies have an increased risk of cancer of the breast and ovaries, heart disease and osteoporosis.
The production and feeding of breastmilk have a far lower impact on our environment and world resources than any alternative feeding method. Breastfeeding saves food resources, fuel and energy. No packaging is required and no chemicals are needed for preparation or disinfection.
Just as women enrol in antenatal classes during pregnancy to learn about childbirth, mothers-to-be find subscribing to ABA before their baby is born, or attending a breastfeeding education class, a great way to learn about breastfeeding and parenting.
Regular contact through ABA enables mothers to meet other mothers and their babies, gather correct, up-to-date information and form lasting friendships.
Many mothers also wonder if they can return to work and still breastfeed. This is certainly possible and is done by increasing numbers of mothers each year. There are many options for continuing to breastfeed; including expressing breastmilk and leaving it for your baby, having baby brought to you at work for feeds or having baby close by and leaving work to feed at regular times.
Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace Accreditation is ABA's program which encourages employers to provide a breastfeeding friendly environment. Mothers and their employers can get information on work practices that foster continuation of breastfeeding. This has advantages both for mothers and employers.