Australia’s medical chief is urging doctors and other medicos to help remove the stigma of formula feeding. Dr Michael Cannon says he wants medical professionals to reassure new mothers who are unable or choose not to breastfeed that formula is an adequate source of nutrients.
There must be a balance says medical chief
Dr Gannon, Australian Medical Association’s (AMA) president, says while breastfeeding is the optimal feeding choice, it may not be the best choice for all families.
“There must be a balance between promoting breastfeeding and supporting mothers who cannot or choose not to breastfeed,” he says.
“Mothers may feel a sense of guilt or failure. And it is important that their GPs and other medical practitioners reassure them about the efficacy and safety of formula feeding, and work to remove any stigma.
“Although it is different in composition, infant formula is an adequate source of nutrients.”
New mums need more support
Dr Gannon, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, recommends parents seeking to feed their infants with baby bottles need more support and guidance. This will ensure their child receives optimal nutrition.
Mums who bottle fed should be given advice on:
- How much they should be feeding their baby
- The correct way to sterilise and prepare formula
- When and how often they should be feeding their infant
- How to recognise when to feed their infant
Dr Gannon’s comments follow the release of the AMA’s Infant Feeding and Parental Health 2017 Position Statement.
In this statement the medical head reiterated that breastfeeding is the optimal infant feeding method. He added that current Australian guidelines recommend exclusive breastfeeding until six months.
“But mothers and other caregivers who cannot or choose not to breastfeed must have access to appropriate care and assistance to formula-feed their child,” he says.
Breastfeeding still optimal feeding choice
Dr Gannon says there’s no doubt that breast is best. Furthermore, in Australia 96 per cent of new mothers start out breastfeeding their baby.
He says babies who are breastfed are at less risk of infection, sudden infant death syndrome, and atopic diseases such as asthma, eczema, and hay fever.
“The maternal antibodies in breast milk help to protect infants before they are old enough for their first childhood vaccinations,” he says.
“Babies who are breastfed are less likely to become obese or develop type 2 diabetes as children and teenagers, and are less at risk of high blood pressure.
“Breastfeeding helps mothers bond with their babies and recover from childbirth. It can also help them regain their pre-pregnancy body weight, and it is also associated with reduced risk of some cancers.”
Dr Gannon added that many mothers did not persist with breastfeeding. Interestingly, only 39 per cent of infants exclusively breastfed to four months and just 15 per cent to six months.
He says this highlights the need for more support to allow mothers to extend the duration of their breastfeeding.
“Women can be discharged from hospital as early as six hours after giving birth, long before their milk has come in,” he says.
It’s his belief that new mums should only be discharged when they are physically and emotionally ready to return home. He says in doing so this recognises that each family will have unique needs.
Training on breastfeeding needed
Dr Gannon says doctors, medical students, and other health professionals should be appropriately trained and educated on the benefits of breastfeeding. This includes how to support mothers who experience difficulties with breastfeeding.
It also notes that parents should be aware that anatomical difficulties. These can include colic, tongue tie, or feeding and swallowing disorders, occur in both breast and formula-fed infants.
In such instances the association advises parents to consult their general practitioner for support. New mums might also be referred to appropriate medical care.
Interestingly, the Position Statement reports that postnatal depression is estimated to affect one-in-seven new mothers in Australia.
“And women who are unable to breastfeed in line with their intentions may be at increased risk,” Dr Gannon says.
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Here is the AMA’s Infant Feeding and Parental Health 2017 Position Statement in full.