Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy 2010-2015

2.1 Australian breastfeeding rates

Page last updated: 15 July 2010

The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, funded by the Australian Government, provides the most recent and extensive national data on breastfeeding in Australia. Amongst the infant cohort in 2004, from a 92 per cent breastfeeding initiation rate, there was a sharp decline in both full and any breastfeeding with each month post birth. By one month old, 71 per cent of infants were fully breastfed. Only 56 per cent of infants were fully breastfed at three months, 46 per cent at four months and 14 per cent at six months (AIFS 2008). The rates of any breastfeeding (including both full breastfeeding and complementary feeding) were 83 per cent at one month, 73 per cent at three months, 63 per cent at four months, 56 per cent at six months, 30 per cent at 12 months and five per cent at 24 months (AIFS 2008, Baxter 2008, Baxter personal communication 2009). Figure 2.1 presents these data, reproduced from AIFS 2008.

Figure 2.1
Graph showing percentage levels of mothers breastfeeding and using complementary breastmilk in the first 12 months in Australia

Source: Growing up in Australia, Wave 1 and 2 (AIFS 2008)

Reliable national level time trend data and even comparisons between jurisdictions for Australian breastfeeding rates are not available due to the inconsistent use of definitions and methodological differences between surveys (AIHW 2009). Breastfeeding experts consider that breastfeeding rates have remained fairly static over the last ten years. Of concern are recent findings that breastfeeding rates can vary substantially between local government areas. For example full breastfeeding at three months ranged between less than 35 per cent to greater than 70 per cent between different local government areas in Victoria (ABS and DEECD 2009). Regional variations in breastfeeding rates have also been noted in New South Wales (Garden 2007) and it is likely that similar variations would be found in other jurisdictions.

Victoria has more comprehensive records on breastfeeding rates over time. Figure 2.2 shows that full breastfeeding at three months declined from 48 per cent in 1950 to 21 per cent in 1970. Breastfeeding rates began to recover during the 1970s and full breastfeeding at three months reached 54 per cent in 1987-88 (AIHW & Lester 1994). These data from Victoria are likely to be indicative of long term time trends for breastfeeding rates for Australia at the national level.

Figure 2.2
Graph showing percentage of mothers fully breastfeeding at 3 and 6 months in Victoria from 1950-1992

Source: AIHW & Lester, 1994

Several studies in Australia have sought to identify why some women do not breastfeed, or do not breastfeed for longer. The 2001 National Health Survey found that the most common self-reported reasons for discontinuing breastfeeding of children aged from birth to three years were: inadequate milk supply (30 percent), felt it was time to stop (23 per cent), problems with breastfeeding such as cracked nipples (10 per cent) and resumed work (eight per cent) (ABS 2003). A literature review by the Victorian Department of Human Services (2005) found that barriers to breastfeeding included returning to the workforce, difficulties experienced with breastfeeding in public, maternal or infant medical problems and giving infant formula or introducing solids earlier than is optimal. Other reports have cited reasons such as inconsistency of advice, beliefs about infant formula, and the level of community support (e.g., HoR 2007). Reasons can include individual commitment to breastfeeding, the partner’s opinion and support, cultural roles and expectations, and responsibilities (NHMRC 2003). For women on a low-income, evidence suggests that male support is crucial in their decision to breastfeed (Schmidt and Sigman Grant 2000).