University of Tasmania researchers who studied data from 22,000 mother and infant pairs have found that babies being fed exclusively breast milk is not common, and that half of the infants who start exclusive breastfeeding in Australia stop by the age of two months.
The researchers from the university’s Menzies Institute for Medical Research and the School of Social Sciences analysed the 2010 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s National Infant Feeding Survey.
Using a sample of 22,202 mother and infant pairs, they found multiple reasons for the cessation of exclusive breastfeeding.
After taking all other confounding factors into consideration, three factors were most strongly associated with the stopping of exclusive breastfeeding: partners’ preference on how the infant was to be fed, regular dummy use and maternal obesity.
The researchers found that 96% of Australian mothers chose to start breastfeeding at birth.
If the mother’s partner preferred the baby be bottle-fed, the risk of stopping increased by 86%.
If the mother’s partner had no preference, the risk of cessation increased by 73%.
Dummy use was found to increase the risk of stopping by 37%. For mothers who were obese the risk of stopping increased by 29%.
The lead author on the paper, Jennifer Ayton, is a PhD student at Menzies and the School of Social Sciences. She is also a registered midwife and a Clinical Senior Lecturer in the university’s School of Health Sciences.
Ayton says it is clear from the number of Australian mothers who choose to start breastfeeding at birth that the public health message of “breast is best” has gotten through.
“What is needed now is a clear focus on modifying or eliminating risk factors identified from this research and a rethink on how best to support the family so that exclusively breastfeeding can continue,” Ayton says.
Although many factors are associated with cessation of exclusive breastfeeding, supporting and engaging fathers/partners has the potential to improve the duration of exclusive breastfeeding
Breast milk is recommended and accepted as the only milk an infant needs for about the first six months of life. Other foods and fluids may then be introduced with continued breastfeeding as long as the mother/family desire.