Barriers to breastfeeding
Although the value of breastfeeding is well understood, there are many barriers that can make it difficult for women to start and continue breastfeeding.
We also know that some groups of women are less likely to breastfeed and would benefit from increased support.
- Younger women, particularly <20yrs
- Less educated women
- Women with low-income and socioeconomic status
- Women from a culturally and linguistically diverse background
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women
Barriers to breastfeeding
- Lack of knowledge about breastfeeding.
- Misconception that formula is equivalent.
- Breastfeeding is not the social norm in many communities.
- Poor family and social support.
- Embarrassment about feeding in public.
- Lactation problems.
- Returning to work and accessing supportive childcare.
- Policies and practices by some health services and health care providers.
- Promotion and marketing of infant formula.
With the right action many of these barriers could be overcome.
See Supporting breastfeeding for strategies to address some of these barriers.
Lack of knowledge about breastfeeding
Women commonly have little or no information about breastfeeding before falling pregnant. Many have had little contact with women who successfully breastfeed and do not know what to expect. Breastfeeding is something that has to be learned by mother and baby.
Most women know that breast milk provides the right nutrition for babies but are unaware of how important it is for normal infant growth, development and health.
Misconception that formula is equivalent
Many women do not know about the risks associated with formula feeding and the hazards of improper use.
We live in a culture where breastfeeding is undervalued. In many communities bottle feeding is viewed as the normal way to feed babies.
Poor family and social support
Lack of support from close family and friends can affect decisions about feeding. Lack of knowledge, negative attitudes and beliefs about breastfeeding by others (partners, family members, support people and the general public) can be unsupportive.
Embarrassment about feeding in public
Many women feel embarrassed about breastfeeding in public. Despite anti-discrimination legislation, many women are still asked to stop breastfeeding or leave public spaces if they wish to continue breastfeeding. Unsupportive attitudes by community members, local services and business can lead women to give up breastfeeding.
Lack of available facilities for breastfeeding in public places can result in some women restricting their activities to avoid having to breastfeed in public.
Women who have problems breastfeeding in the early weeks are less likely to continue breastfeeding unless they access help from professionals or trained counsellors.
Returning to work and accessing supportive childcare
More mothers are returning to the workforce while their infants are young, and too little assistance is available to help them to continue breastfeeding. This includes lack of on-site childcare, no nursing breaks for mothers or appropriate places to express and store breast milk while at work. Few workplaces have breastfeeding policies or flexible working arrangements.
Policies and practices in some health services and by some health care providers.
Practices in some health services, such as using display, posters or pamphlets supplied by formula companies, can influence decisions about infant feeding.
Health care providers may feel that they have inadequate knowledge about breastfeeding. This can lead to inappropriate advice, poor diagnosis and management of common breastfeeding problems. Health care providers own attitudes and experiences may also influence their recommendations.
Promotion and marketing of infant formula
Promotion and marketing of infant formula as a suitable alternative undermines breastfeeding. Large advertising budgets are allocated to the promotion of infant feeding products. These products are widely promoted.
A newspoll survey commissioned by ACLA found that only 29% of people strongly agree that women should be encouraged to breastfeed in public
Are you a parent needing help?
Click here to visit the Australian Breastfeeding Association website for information and support