Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy 2010-2015

3.1 International policy and practice

Page last updated: 15 July 2010

This Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy reflects Australia’s support for international organisations and frameworks as well as domestic efforts to protect, promote, support, and monitor breastfeeding. Australia provides assistance to United Nations agencies that play a key role in improving child and maternal health and increasing rates of breastfeeding. These include the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Population Fund.

As a member state of the WHO, and through the World Health Assembly (WHA), Australia supports resolutions and strategies that encourage breastfeeding, recognising its importance to infant and young child nutrition, and in reducing infant mortality. Several resolutions have been passed relating to infant and young child nutrition and appropriate feeding practices: International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (1981); WHO/UNICEF Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding (2003); and the 1990 and 2005 Innocenti Declarations. The most recent WHA resolutions have focussed on strengthening implementation, seeking assistance for member states that are lagging behind, and on monitoring progress in implementation of measures such as the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.

The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative - Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding (see Figure 3.1) launched by the WHO/UNICEF in 1991 after the 1990 Innocenti Declaration, and recently updated in 2009, is an example of effective practical guidance to assist countries in increasing breastfeeding rates. Child and maternal health is also a key priority area for Australia’s aid program. Australia supports the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health. Australia’s aid program contributes to infant and young child nutrition programs, particularly in the Asia Pacific region.

Every facility providing care for maternity services and care for newborn infants should:

  1. Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
  2. Train all health care staff in skills necessary to implament this policy.
  3. Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
  4. Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within half an hour of birth*
  5. Show mothers how to breastfeed, and how to maintain lactation even if they should be separated from their infants.
  6. Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.
  7. Practise rooming-in - that is, allow mothers and infants to remain together - 24 hours a day.
  8. Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
  9. Give no artificial teats or pacifiers (also called dummies or soothers) to breastfeeding infants.
  10. Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic.
Figure 3.1 Source: WHO (2009, 1989)

* This step is now interpreted as: Place babies in skin-to-skin contact with their mothers immediately following birth for at least an hour. Encourage mothers to recognise when their babies are ready to breastfeed and offer help if needed.

Australia is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which entered into force in Australia in 1991. Article 24 of this international treaty recognises that the child has the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health. Parties are responsible for pursuing the full implementation of this right and, in particular, taking appropriate measures to ensure that all segments of society, in particular parents and children, are informed, have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, hygiene and environmental sanitation and the prevention of accidents (DFAT 1991) (emphasis added).

Australia also participates in the work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) the international food standards setting body. Codex is the reference point for international food trade standards, including an international food standard for infant formula.

Australia’s support for these global frameworks includes international engagement, federal, state/territory and local government policies and initiatives, and health, community sector, and food industry efforts. The Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy draws upon key principles from these global frameworks, as well as strategies and practices from other countries and regions, such as New Zealand, Norway, the United States, the European Union, and Australia’s own states and territories.