Why is breastfeeding important?
Breastfeeding promotes the healthy growth and development of infants and young children. In Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council publishes infant feeding guidelines which state ‘it is recommended that infants are exclusively breastfed until around 6 months of age when solid foods are introduced, and that breastfeeding is continued until 12 months of age and beyond, for as long as the mother and child desire’ (NHMRC 2012). ‘Exclusive breastfeeding’ means that the infant receives only breast milk (including expressed milk) and medicines (including oral rehydration solutions, vitamins and minerals), but no infant formula or non-human milk (AHMAC 2009). Breast milk contains all the requirements necessary for a baby’s development for the first 6 months and remains the most important part of the baby’s diet, with the addition of family foods, until around 12 months. Breast milk continues to provide a valuable source of nutrition and immunological protection for 2 years and beyond (ABA 2013).
Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended as evidence suggests it has health, nutritional and developmental benefits, including:
- protection for the infant against infectious diseases, including gastrointestinal illness, respiratory tract infections and middle ear infections (Duijts, Ramadhani, Moll 2009; Eidelman 2012);
- lower incidence of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes later in life, with improved cognitive development (Horta & Victoria 2013; Kramer et al. 2008);
- reduced risk of SIDS, type 1 diabetes and leukaemia (Eidelman 2012); and
- improved mother-infant bonding and secure attachment (Allen & Hector 2005; Bryanton et al. 2009).
Do breastfeeding rates vary across population groups?
In the 2014–15 National Health Survey, the national proportion of infants exclusively breastfed to around 4 months of age was almost 58%. Babies born to a mother who was born overseas were more likely to be exclusively breastfed to around 4 months (almost 76%) than those babies born to mothers born in Australia (51%). There was no statistically significant difference between the proportion of infants exclusively breastfed to around 4 months in couple families (60%) and one-parent families (61%). Nor were there statistically significant differences across remoteness areas or areas of highest and lowest socioeconomic disadvantage.
CALD refers to Culturally and Linguistically Diverse background.
Data from the three periods 2010, 2011–12 and 2014–15 are not comparable; data in 2010 were from the Australian National Infant Feeding Survey, while data from 2011–12 and 2014–15 were from the National Health Survey. Data from 2011–12 is derived using people aged 4 months to 47 months of age. Data from 2014–15 is derived using people aged 4 months to 24 months of age. Due to a change in question sequencing between these two surveys, 2014–15 data is not comparable to 2011–12 data.
For more detailed information on the data refer to the data source tables.
- ABA (Australian Breastfeeding Association) 2013. Position Statement on Breastfeeding. Viewed 1 May 2015, https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/policy/statement-breastfeeding.
- AHMC (Australian Health Ministers' Conference) 2009. The Australian Breastfeeding Strategy 2010-2015. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.
- Allen J & Hector D 2005. Benefits of breastfeeding. NSW Public Health Bulletin 16(3–4):42–6.
- Bryanton J, Gagnon AJ, Hatem M, Johnston C 2009. Does perception of the childbirth experience predict women’s early parenting behaviours? Research in Nursing & Health, 32(2): 191-203.
- Duijts L, Ramadhani MK, Moll HA 2009. Breastfeeding protects against infectious diseases during infancy in industrialised countries. A systematic review. Maternal & Child Nutrition 5(3): 199-210.
- Eidelman AI 2012. American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement: breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics 129(3): e827-e841.
- Horta BL & Victoria CG 2013. Long-term effects of breastfeeding: a systematic review. Geneva: World Health Organization.
- Kramer MS, Aboud F, Mironova E, Vanilovich I, Platt RW, Matush L et al. 2008. Breastfeeding and child cognitive development: new evidence from a large randomized trial. Archives of General Psychiatry 65(5):578–84.
- NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) 2012. Infant feeding guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.