Annual Report 2006–2007

Breastfeeding

This section presents preliminary research by Jennifer Baxter and makes use of the B cohort data on breastfeeding from Wave 1, updated using Wave 2 data, as well as other data from Wave 1.5.

Breastfeeding confers a range of benefits to mother and child and, as such, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommend that as many infants as possible are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. NHMRC also recommends infants continue to be breastfed up until at least one year old if mother and child desire to do so.

For the B cohort, 92 per cent of children were breastfed at birth. As shown in Figure 4, the overall rate of breastfeeding fell steadily from month to month. Some mothers stopped breastfeeding altogether, and others continued to breastfeed while supplementing the breast milk with other food or drink (shown in Figure 4 "Complementary breast milk").

Figure 4 - Breastfeeding: The first 12 months, B cohort

Figure 4

Source: Growing Up in Australia, Waves 1 and 2

When children were one week old, 88 per cent were still being breastfed, but already the rate of full breastfeeding (that is, breastfeeding with no other food or milk) had dropped to 80 per cent. By the time the children were aged one month, only 71 per cent were fully breastfed, with another 11 per cent receiving complementary breast milk. This decline in full breastfeeding from birth to one month of age was greater than declines in the next 3 months, as the rate of full breastfeeding fell to 62 per cent at age 2 months, 56 per cent at age 3 months and 46 per cent at age 4 months. The rate of full breastfeeding declined more rapidly after the child's 4-month birthday, dropping to 28 per cent at 5 months and 14 per cent at 6 months. Beyond this, very few children were fully breastfed. After 6 months, breastfeeding rates continued to decline. At 12 months, 28 per cent of children were still breastfed; at 18 months, 9 per cent of children; and at 24 months, 5 per cent were still being breastfed.

The timing of introduction of non-breast milk and of solids is shown in Figure 5. These categories are not mutually exclusive - infants could have non-breast milk as well as solids. At 3 months old, 53 per cent of infants were fed non-breast milk and 11 per cent solids. The percentage of infants on solids rose to 38 per cent at 4 months and 62 per cent at 5 months. At 6 months, the age at which WHO and NHMCR recommend introduction of solids, 91 per cent of infants had started solids.

Figure 5 - Introduction of non-breast milk and solids, B cohort

Figure 5

Source: Growing Up in Australia, Waves 1 and 2

Breastfeeding and returning to work

To explore whether there is a relationship between mothers' breastfeeding patterns and their postpartum employment, we need to also understand mothers' return-to-work patterns. This analysis is based on information on maternal return to work, collected in the 2005 Parental Leave in Australia Survey (Wave 1.5).

When children were 3 months old, only 11 per cent of mothers had returned to work. Even by 6 months, only 21 per cent had returned. By 9 months, 31 per cent had returned and by 12 months, 42 per cent had returned (Table 4).

Analysing the association between return to work and breastfeeding requires fairly complex methods. However, since very few women had returned to work before the child was 3 months old, factors other than employment are likely to explain the decline in breastfeeding found during this time. As children get older and more women return to work, there is a greater likelihood of employment being a factor in the declining rates of breastfeeding.

Table 4 - Distribution of employment status at 3, 6, 9 and 12 months after the birth

  3 months 6 months 9 months 12 months
% % % %
Not returned to work
89
79
69
58
Hours worked on return
1 to 9
3
5
6
8
10 to 19
3
6
9
14
20 to 34
3
6
9
13
35 or more
2
4
6
8
Job type on return
Self-employed
4
5
6
7
Permanent
3
9
15
23
Casual
3
6
8
11

Note: Employment status is based on the employment status and hours that mothers reported they were working when they first returned to work. It does not incorporate changes to other forms of work or increases in hours that might occur over this time.
Source: Growing Up in Australia, Wave 1.5

For those mothers who had returned to work in the child's first year, associations between breastfeeding and employment were likely to vary, not only with the age of the child or the mother's recommencement of work, but also with the characteristics of the job. More flexible or less time-intensive jobs are less likely than other jobs to compete with breastfeeding.

At 3 months, mothers who had returned to work were fairly equally divided between those in self-employment, permanent work and casual work. Over the 12 months, there was growth in the proportion in each of these types of jobs, but more so in permanent employment (Table 4). Figure 6 shows that women who had returned to permanent or casual jobs by the child's 3-month birthday had lower rates of breastfeeding compared to those who had remained not employed or who had taken up self-employment. At 6 and 9 months, the percentage of women breastfeeding was lowest for those in permanent employment but, by 12 months, differences were less evident.

Figure 6 - Percentage of mothers still breastfeeding, by age of child and return to work characteristics

Figure 6

Source: Growing Up in Australia, Waves 1 and 2

Relatively few mothers returned to full-time work (35 hours or more) in the first year (Table 4). As shown in Figure 7, mothers who were not employed or who worked fewer than 10 hours per week had the highest breastfeeding rates at each of 3, 6, 9 and 12 months. However, breastfeeding rates were not always lowest amongst those working full-time hours (see Figure 7), and it is likely that other maternal and family characteristics contribute to these trends.

Figure 7 - Percentage of mothers still breastfeeding, by age of child and hours worked

Figure 7

Source: Growing Up in Australia, Waves 1 and 2

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