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Almost all Australian infants commence breastfeeding but most do not continue as long as recommended, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The report, 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey: Indicator results, presents results from the first large-scale, specialised, national survey of infant feeding practices and related attitudes.

Australian dietary guidelines recommend babies are fed only breastmilk to around six months, but the survey shows that only 15% are meeting this recommendation.

The survey found that although 96% of babies were initially introduced to breastmilk, 61% were exclusively breastfed for less than one month and this progressively decreased to 15% at around six months of age.

About 21% of infants were predominantly breastfed to around 6 months of age, meaning that breastmilk was their main source of nourishment, though they may also have been given other drinks such as water or fruit juices.

Infants of mothers aged 35 years and over were more likely to breastfeed for longer periods. Breastfeeding was also more likely for infants whose mother/carer had a tertiary education or higher income.

The main reasons why mothers gave their child breastmilk were that it was ‘healthier for child’, ‘convenient’ or ‘helps with mother-infant bonding’.

‘Wanting to share feeding responsibilities with their partner’ and ‘previously unsuccessful breastfeeding experiences’ were the two most common reasons for not breastfeeding. Many women also felt that formula was just as good as breastmilk.

‘The guidelines also recommend babies be introduced to solid foods at around 6 months, however, our survey found that around a third of babies were introduced to these foods a little earlier than recommended, indicating there is some more work to be done in this area,’ said AIHW spokesperson Mark Cooper-Stanbury.

The survey results will help monitor aspects of the National Breastfeeding Strategy 2010-2015, which aims to improve breastfeeding practices in Australia.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 20 December 2011

Further information: Mr Mark Cooper-Stanbury, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1251, mob. 0408 417 340

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer 02 6244 1032

Full report: 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey: Indicator results