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Barriers to breastfeeding and what we can do about them

In this article, Professor Karen Campbell further explores barriers to breastfeeding and how they might be overcome.
Mother holding baby in pediatrician examination room
© Deakin University

Beyond the perception of ‘low milk supply, there are many other commonly reported reasons for not initiating, limiting or ceasing breastfeeding.

In this article, we’ll explore a number of other barriers to breastfeeding and consider how these barriers may be addressed. For example, consider the following statements.

Breastfeeding is a learned skill

“Because breastfeeding is natural, I thought it was something I should be able to do easily. I had no idea that it was something both my baby and I had to learn to do.”
Breastfeeding and newborn baby boy are indoors in their house. The mother is breastfeeding her son while sitting in a chair.
© Getty Images
Because breastfeeding is so natural, you’d be forgiven for thinking that as soon as your baby is born and placed near your breast, it will all just happen and that’s that. But, the reality is that just like riding a bike or playing a musical instrument, breastfeeding is a skill that we must learn in order to do it successfully.

It’s common to find breastfeeding hard

In fact, it can take a mum and her baby 6–8 weeks to figure out what works best for them! It’s quite common to find breastfeeding hard but it is also important to persist – the majority of problems can be overcome with the right help. Many new mums also don’t realise that there is plenty of support available (much of it free) to help them breastfeed their baby.
There’s also no need to worry if your own mum was unable to breastfeed – it’s not genetic, so there’s no reason you won’t be able to.
“I really hadn’t thought about breastfeeding as an option before I had my baby. I talked with my mum and assumed I’d do what she had done for me and start my baby from the first days on infant formula.”
image of mother, grandmother, child
© Getty Images
We know that many women make decisions during pregnancy about whether to breastfeed or not and for how long. This highlights the importance of having positive discussions about breastfeeding during pregnancy. This is a role that can be played by friends, family and health professionals.

Parent education

Beyond social discussions about breastfeeding, parent education both before and after a baby is born is likely to be valuable. Such education can focus on the value of breastmilk, breastfeeding techniques and how to find support when needed.
If you’re pregnant, take the opportunity to attend pre-natal classes that may be on offer in your hospital or community. If you’re already breastfeeding, make sure you talk with your health care provider about maintaining your breastfeeding regimen.

Education on establishing milk supply

It’s extremely important to provide education on establishing milk supply, which can take around six weeks. Evidence-based advice includes feeding on-demand and not offering a dummy or a bottle in these early weeks, and avoiding having formula in the house, ‘just in case.’ See the Raising Children Network for tips and hints.
“I came home from hospital with infant formula provided by the hospital, so I assumed that this was considered to be a healthy choice for my baby.”
image of newborn baby and mother in hospital
© Getty Images

The World Health Organisation (WHO)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes seeks to protect the public from the overzealous promotion of breastmilk substitutes as, in some countries, it’s common to be sent home with free infant formula.

Supplying new mothers with infant formula

The practice of supplying new mothers with infant formula while in hospital varies around the world and from hospital to hospital. This practice potentially undermines a women’s belief that she is capable of producing enough milk to ensure her infant will grow healthfully.
Movements like the Baby-Friendly Health Initiative are pivotally important in addressing this issue by promoting a wide range of policies within hospitals that will maximise the opportunities for parents to initiate and maintain breastfeeding.
“I feel uncomfortable breastfeeding – it seems that many people in my life don’t really approve of me feeding in public.”

image of mother breastfeeding in cafe
© Getty Images

It’s true that many women feel they are not well supported by partners, friends, family and, indeed, their workplace or the broader community.

Breastfeeding in public

It’s also very common for women to experience negative social comments when they breastfeed in public places, and it can be difficult to find somewhere private to feed. Many women report breastfeeding in the toilet to avoid harsh scrutiny.

Not surprisingly, these challenges are often given as a reason for stopping breastfeeding or for introducing infant formula.

© Deakin University
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Infant Nutrition: from Breastfeeding to Baby's First Solids

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