New research from Philips Avent finds that Australian mothers are still under pressure when it comes to breastfeeding. New research* from Philips Avent reveal mums are under more pressure than ever when it comes to breastfeeding, calling for greater support, conversation and education around the realities of breastfeeding in Australia.
The research polling over 1,000 Australian mothers reveals that while the majority (88%) of Aussie mums breastfeed, three in four mums (78%) face challenges breastfeeding and one in two mums (65%) experience feelings of loneliness and frustration when it comes to breastfeeding.
Social media has been identified as a key pressure point for breastfeeding mums. Almost half of those surveyed (47.6%) said they feel pressure towards breastfeeding on social media. Almost one in five mothers (19.3%) felt their relationships with family and partners were most likely to be negatively impacted by social media.
Commenting on the findings, midwife, mum and Philips Avent Ambassador, Liz Wilkes, said more conversation is needed to support Aussie mums when it comes to their feeding experience – in particular breastfeeding.
"Breast is best, but we need to be realistic and realise that while breastfeeding is natural and healthy for mum and baby, it's not always easy and it might not always feel natural for mum to begin with," said Wilkes. "Many mums struggle with breastfeeding – addressing the pressure and challenges is the first step in truly supporting our mothers."
The research revealed the top three challenges mums face when breastfeeding:
1. Baby struggling to latch (61.9%)
2. An insufficient milk supply (42.6%)
3. Too painful (40.4%)
The research also reveals the top four misconceptions mums had when it came to the reality of breastfeeding:
1. Feeling that breastfeeding should be easy (67.3%)
2. Feeling that breastfeeding should feel natural (56.5%)
3. Feeling that they wouldn't need assistance breastfeeding (56.3%)
4. Feeling like once they started breastfeeding, they could continue for as long as they wanted (46.4%)
Working with Philips Avent, Liz Wilkes has developed her top tips for mums to navigate the realities of breastfeeding. Wilkes and Philips Avent have also developed top tips for family and friends to support mothers throughout their feeding journey.
Liz Wilkes' top tips for breastfeeding mums:
1. Talk to the experts
Talking to a midwife, lactation consultant or even a doctor can be a great start. These experts can help give mum advice on the most up-to-date practices and products that help promote breastfeeding.
2. Build a network of real-life support
Build a network that can help support you if times get tough. It's important to realise that support comes in many forms. It could be other mums, your own mother or mother-inlaw, or simply your partner or other friends and family that you can lean on.
3. Invest in products and brands that you trust
There are products and aids that can help make breastfeeding easier and more convenient. A breast pump might be key in helping to stimulate or even maintain milk flow or, for women experiencing pain while breastfeeding, a nipple shield might just be the solution to help minimise discomfort. I recommend mums invest in a brand that they can trust, such as Philips Avent which I have been recommending to my clients for a number of years now.
4. Be kind to yourself
Take time out for you, judgement free. I often recommend a daily 20-30 minute for mum to treat herself with something simple – whether that's a warm shower, a bit of exercise or even watching Netflix. It's important to take time for you.
Liz Wilkes' top tips for the friends and family supporting breastfeeding mums:
1. Provide support by asking questions
We all care and want to provide support and advice, but for mums who are inundated with advice and opinions, sometimes the best support is not providing your own personal thoughts but instead asking questions to help start a conversation. Simply asking "how are you doing?" can show support and allow mum to unload or share her challenges.
2. Support through actions
When mums are struggling to breastfeed, try to support in other ways. Offering to cook a meal, run errands or help out with household chores can help relieve other day-to-day pressure for mum, allowing her to focus on baby.
3. Giving space to mum
In the first few weeks and months with baby, mum can be inundated with visits from friends and family. While this can be an amazing and celebratory time, aim to keep your visits short (no more than hour) so that mum can get bub fed or off to sleep without worrying too much about hosting and entertaining visitors.
Question: What surprised you most about the latest Philips Avent research regarding breastfeed?
Liz Wilkes: As a midwife it is common to see women come into the practice with feeding difficulties, so the most surprising statistic for me was that (47.6%) of mums feel pressure toward breastfeeding on social media.
Question: What pressure are Australian mums under regarding feeding?
Liz Wilkes: Mums often find themselves under pressure from the misconceptions out there surrounding breastfeeding. Everyone's experience is different and breastfeeding is not always easy and doesn't always feel natural, sometimes mums need help and assistance in this department and that is ok. It is also ok for there to be problems that arise later down the track, which often catches mums off guard.
Question: How is social media partly to blame for this pressure?
Liz Wilkes: I think it comes down to perception, but what is portrayed on social media does not always reflect real life, that's why having support networks is so important. I would like to also note that while social media has only been around for a couple of years there have always been external pressures on mums and nine times out of ten they are not the only ones experiencing challenges.
Question: What types of challenges do mums face regarding breastfeeding?
Liz Wilkes: There can be a range of challenges some mums face when breastfeeding, some are external social challenges whilst other are more physiological. The study from Philips Avent has shown that some of the most common challenges women face when breastfeeding are: establishing milk supply, difficulty of the baby latching, as well as experiencing pain when breastfeeding.
Question: Why are new mums experiencing feelings of loneliness and frustration with breastfeeding and how can we change this?
Liz Wilkes: Breastfeeding is not always easy, although it is often perceived to be. So, when problems with feeding arise, that's the time to reach out, discuss what is going on with family and friends. With three in four Aussie mums (78%) facing challenges breastfeeding, it is much more common than new mums realise and it will help to recognise that they are not going through this alone.
Question: What advice do you have for family and friends supporting a new mum who is having challenges breastfeeding?
Liz Wilkes: Ensure your friend has a solid support network in place and has a 'go to' expert such as a midwife. Their network could include friends, other mums, their own mother or mother-in-law, or their partner and other family that they can lean on.
Simple gestures like cleaning their kitchen or cooking a meal for them will be a huge help. Another great way to support your breastfeeding mum pal is to offer to take their baby out or bottle feed the baby to give mum a quick break. To do this is can be helpful to have some expressed breastmilk so mum can have a sleep, have a bath or do whatever she wants. This will require a bit of forward planning and a good quality breast pump, but it is something that she will be so grateful for.
Question: How can we begin a conversation to support women around the realities of breastfeeding in Australia?
Liz Wilkes: We are starting the conversation now, and in doing so we are raising awareness for a need for greater education around the realities of breastfeeding. We need to keep on talking, and building greater support networks.
Question: What message would you like to spread, this Breastfeeding Week?
Liz Wilkes: You are not alone - there are support networks and resources available.
Interview by Brooke Hunter