If you haven’t breastfed before, you might be wondering, “Is breastfeeding hard?”
Firstly, let’s take a quick look at some important breastfeeding stats and figures.
Leading world health organisations recommend exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months and then for breastfeeding to continue alongside suitable complementary foods for 2 years and beyond.
In Australia, 96% of mothers initiate breastfeeding. However, despite this strong desire to breastfeed, rates of exclusive breastfeeding drop of significantly with each month after birth as follows:
- 1 month – 56%
- 3 months – 39%
- 4 months – 27%
- 5 months – 15%
By 1 year, only 28% of children are still being breastfed and only 5% by 2 years.
So, what makes breastfeeding so hard such that many don’t end up breastfeeding for as long as they hoped to?
Is Breastfeeding Hard?
Breastfeeding is natural. However, it’s also a learned skill for mothers.
And, like learning all new skills, breastfeeding can take some time to get the hang of.
But, this aside, here are 7 factors which make breastfeeding hard.
#1: Societal Norms
Breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed babies. Biological norms don’t always equal societal norms however.
In many Western societies, bottle feeding is seen more often than breastfeeding. Things that are seen often are familiar and enter deep into our consciousness. Indeed, bottle feeding is very much a Western societal norm and this is one factor which can make breastfeeding hard. This fact is compounded by the sexualisation of breasts.
We need to create an environment where mothers feel confident to breastfeed in public. This will encourage other mothers to do the same. We need more photos of breastfeeding seen on the internet, on magazine covers, on walls in medical clinics etc. This will help more people recognise that breastfeeding is normal.
#2: Early Formula Supplementation In Hospitals
The largest drop in exclusive breastfeeding occurs within first month after birth.
Healthy terms babies who are not supplemented within the early days after birth are more likely to be breastfeeding at 6 months.
Nonetheless, many babies are supplemented while still in hospital, even when it’s not medically necessary. This is another factor which can make breastfeeding hard.
Sometimes formula supplementation is required for medical reasons which you can read about here.
#3: Many Health Professionals Lack Breastfeeding Knowledge
When a mother is experiencing breastfeeding challenges, it’s important for her to receive knowledgeable breastfeeding support.
There needs to be a better framework established for educating many health professionals about breastfeeding.
If you are experiencing any breastfeeding problems, seek prompt help from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
#4: Lack Of Support When Returning To Work
Returning to work can affect breastfeeding rates. For example, research shows that among mothers returning to work at 6 months or earlier, 58% reported reducing or stopping breastfeeding to return to work.
So, lack of support for breastfeeding when returning to work can make breastfeeding hard.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association has taken heed of this and developed initiatives to encourage workplace support for breastfeeding. The Breastfeeding Friendly Workplaces (BFW) program is a national consultancy service which helps to remove the workplace as a barrier to breastfeeding.
More BFW accredited workplaces can help more mothers to be supported to return to work and continue to breastfeed.
#5: Lack Of The WHO Code
When it comes to using formula, caregivers need to be able to make informed decisions based on information which is independent and not driven by profit motives and marketing hype of the formula industry.
The WHO Code helps prevent exploitation through formula marketing. Australia’s response to the WHO Code is the Marketing in Australia of Infant Formula (MAIF) Agreement. The MAIF Agreement is a voluntary, self-regulatory code of conduct between manufacturers and importers of infant formula in Australia.
The MAIF Agreement only applies to infant formula. It does not apply to many other things covered by the WHO Code, including toddler formula. Hence, marketing of toddler milks in Australia has no restrictions. Many parents don’t differentiate between infant and toddler formulas however, but rather just recognise the brand.
Implementing the WHO Code in full would be more effective at curbing formula marketing which can make breastfeeding harder.
#6: Lack Of Baby-Friendly Hospitals
If breastfeeding doesn’t get off to a good start, establishing it can be more difficult.
Giving birth at a Baby Friendly accredited hospital means that certain practices which help get breastfeeding off to the best start possible will be hospital policy. These practices include:
- Skin-to-skin contact straight after birth
- Rooming-in (having your baby with you in your room)
- Giving no supplementation unless medically indicated (or the mother wants to)
- Providing new mothers with support by informed health care workers
These practices help you have a greater chance of successfully establishing breastfeeding and exclusively breastfeeding for longer and not making breastfeeding as hard.
#7: Suboptimal Parental Leave Policies
Norway’s paid parental leave scheme consists of either 46 weeks with full pay or 56 weeks with 80% pay. Leave may be taken on a part-time basis until the child is three years old.
Compare this with Australia’s Paid Parental Leave scheme which provides eligible employees with up to 18 weeks of paid parental leave at the national minimum wage rate. Such suboptimal parental leave policies can make breastfeeding hard.
So, government bodies, policy makers etc, listen up! You recommend mothers exclusively breastfeed for 6 months and then continue breastfeeding alongside suitable complementary foods for at least one year! Well, stop making breastfeeding so hard for many mothers and start taking action to help more mothers be able to reach their breastfeeding goals.