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Quit with the guilt

April 6, 2010

A study I read about in the paper today suggested that only 18 per cent of Australian mothers are still breastfeeding their children at six months.  I suspect that this is misreported and what they mean to say is ‘solely’; the American figures I found were that 43 percent were breast-feeding at 6 months, while only 14 percent, had been exclusively breast-fed for six months (that is, no other food, formula or water).

The article is light on why this may be; the implication is that these mothers are either not aware of the benefits, or just not trying hard enough.

What may partly explain these numbers is fact that starting babies on solids between 4-6 months is widely recommended (even by my maternal health nurse). I’ve got specific reasons why I’m delaying Lady G here, but if I wasn’t planning to baby-led wean, I’d be one of these as well.

But if you read other reports of the research, it seems that when a baby stops breastfeeding may not actually be completely up to the mother at all:

Full-time workers with short postpartum maternity leaves were more likely to quit breast-feeding early. Those at highest risk were women in non-managerial and inflexible positions and women with higher stress levels.

Women who had access to workplace benefits such as paid maternity leave or a private office might have greater success, noted Chris Mulford, a retired lactation consultant in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, and member of the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee, a nonprofit group. “They’re usually more able to sustain breast-feeding as they return to work than women who work without their own office, without a place at the job where they can express their milk,” she said.

But that’s not the angle taken by the paper I read at least.

I had an awful time trying to feed initially.  I pushed through with the help of a lactation consultant and a lack of stress about needing to try to supply while I was at work, but not everyone can find or afford this sort of help or they have other issues that make it hard to continue.

Instead of reading again about how women are supposedly failing their children which is something that many women who eventually go to formula feel anyway, I’d rather read a call for Australia to continue to improve it’s paid parental leave offering (currently at zero weeks, although a minimum wage up to 18 weeks has been proposed), which is currently among the worst in the developed world.

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