What you need to know:

Breastfeeding improves the health of mothers and babies and saves money. Most babies are breastfed for a month, but only six in ten babies are still being breastfed at six months. If mothers breastfeed their first baby for six months, most will breastfeed their next baby for six months. So it is particularly important to help women with breastfeeding their first baby. For the first six months after the birth, ongoing help should be provided for all first time mothers.

What this research is about:

Breastfeeding results in the best outcomes for mothers and their babies. For more than ten years, the World Health Organization has recommended that all babies should be breastfed for the first six month1s of their lives. Current Australian recommendations are to breastfeed for at least a year. They also say that it is good to breastfeed for another year, making two years in total. Although there are some figures on the proportions of babies who are breastfed, less is known about the mothers and whether they behave in the same way for all of their babies.

What did the researchers do:

In 1996, 18-23 years old women from all over Australia first took part in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health. Since then, they have been answering surveys every three years and completed their fifth survey in 2009. In these surveys, the women reported how many children they have and how long they breastfed each child. We look at the proportions of babies who were breastfed for six months, a year and two years, and which babies are most likely to be breastfed. Having looked at the babies, we look at the mothers and who is most likely to breastfeed. If women breastfeed their first child for at least six months, do they do the same thing with their next child.

What did the research find:

More than nine in ten babies were breastfed for at least a month. Six of every ten babies were breastfed to six months. One in four babies was breastfed for a year. Very few babies were breastfed for two years. Babies were more likely to be breastfed for at least six months if they were not born premature or low birth weight. When we looked at mothers, we found more than two in three mothers breastfed at least one baby to six months. More than one in three mothers breastfed at least one baby for a year. Women who were older when they had their first child were more likely to breastfeed their babies. Babies were more likely to be breastfed if women who were more educated, were less stressed about money and had a partner. Women who breastfed their first baby to six months were much more likely to breastfeed their second baby.

How can you use this research:

Despite recommendations, many Australian babies are not being breastfed for at least six months. Although most babies are breastfed for the first month, breastfeeding does not continue. If women breastfeed their first baby for at least six months they are more likely to continue this practice with later babies. So it is particularly important to help women with breastfeeding their first baby. For the first six months after the birth, ongoing help should be provided for all first time mothers. Extra help should be provided to younger and less educated mothers.

Contact person: Alexis Hure Alexis.Hure@newcastle.edu.au

Citation: Hure, A. J., Powers, J. R., Chojenta, C. L., Byles, J. E., & Loxton, D. (2013). Poor adherence to national and international breastfeeding duration targets in an Australian longitudinal cohort. PLoS ONE, 8(1). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054409

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