• "While we want to see high rates of breastfeeding across the entire population, we shouldn’t see these social differences.” (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
New research examining the difference in breastfeeding rates in tertiary and non-tertiary-educated women highlights the need for more support for new mums.
By
Yasmin Noone

24 Mar 2016 - 12:00 PM  UPDATED 24 Mar 2016 - 1:48 PM

If you’re a university-educated woman who has just given birth, you’re twice as likely to breastfeed your child for their first six months of their life than non-tertiary-educated women, a new Australian study shows.

University of Queensland (UQ) research, released this week, reveals that socioeconomic status may play a role in maternity habits, finding that higher education is linked being more likely to initiate breastfeeding and continue breastfeeding the baby for the minimum recommended term of six months.

The study, published in the Cambridge University Press journal Public Health Nutrition, also highlights education and breastfeeding habits can be passed down through the generations.

Researchers found that women with one parent who had less than 10 years of education were about one-and-a-half times more likely than other women to not breastfeed.

“Our results are at a population level and are absolutely about inequality,” says researcher and PhD candidate, Natalie Holowko from UQ School of Public Health.

“While we want to see high rates of breastfeeding across the entire population, we shouldn’t see these social differences.”

Ms Holowko explains that a woman’s university education coincide with the amount of breastfeeding support available to her and socioeconomic factors.

“It may be that women with a high education are more receptive to health behaviours and more likely to seek out formal support networks.

“Those who are disadvantaged (single parents, those on a low income) may also be forced back into the labour market earlier than those with the resources to remain at home with their child for an extended period, so switching to formula feeding may be a more realistic option.”

While we want to see high rates of breastfeeding across the entire population, we shouldn’t see these social differences.

Breaking down the data, ascertained from over 4,700 mothers involved in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, the researchers also found that women with a higher level of education were less likely to breastfeed their youngest child.

“We know that women with a history of successful breastfeeding are more likely to breastfeed subsequent children, which is understandable.

“But our finding that all women were less likely to breastfeed their youngest, particularly the women with a high education, points to structural factors.

“This may also suggest that women are returning to work soon after reaching their desired number of children.”

Australian Breastfeeding Association branch president (ACT/NSW), Nicole Bridges, says she is not surprised by the research findings.

“Women need adequate paid maternity leave in order to breastfeed for the appropriate amount of time,” says Ms Bridges.

“By the time a woman has her youngest baby, the family has a much greater financial burden than they did with only one child.

“Women in this predicament are often forced back into the workforce with very little choice, which of course leads to premature weaning.”

Women in this predicament are often forced back into the workforce with very little choice, which of course leads to premature weaning.

Ms Bridges says the findings emphasise the need for the government to invest in better education and support surrounding breastfeeding “particularly in lower socio-economic groups, and a more adequate paid maternity leave scheme so that mothers are not forced into this predicament.” 

Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months, and continued breastfeeding up to 12 months and beyond.

According to the World Health Organisation, breastfeeding reduces a child’s risk of catching an infectious disease early in life. It also plays a role in preventing obesity and other chronic illnesses.

However, Ms Holowko stresses that breastfeeding may not be feasible for some women, regardless of their socioeconomic and education levels.

She explains that breastfeeding was started with 83 per cent of newborns in the study, but only 59 per cent of children were still being breastfed at six months old.

“Women may be unable to breastfeed or it may only be possible under extreme duress.

“So it is important to ensure that all women have access to support and information about breastfeeding before having their child.” 

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