Why is it important?:Breastfeeding is one of the most important health behaviours impacting on the survival, growth, development and health of infants and young children. The most recent guidelines released by the National Health and Medical Research Council recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life and that ideally breastfeeding be continued until 12 months of age and beyond if the mother and child wish (NHMRC 2003b).
Breastfeeding offers protection against many conditions, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), diarrhoea, respiratory infections, middle ear infections and the development of diabetes in later life (Annamalay et al. 2012).
The NHMRC guidelines recognise the protection that breastfeeding can provide against poor health outcomes in early childhood.
Findings:In the 2004–05 NATSIHS and NHS, breastfeeding rates for Indigenous children aged 0–3 years in non-remote areas were lower (79%) than for non-Indigenous children aged 0–3 years (88%) in non-remote areas.
In the 2008 NATSISS breastfeeding status varied by remoteness, with a higher proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged less than 12 months being breastfed in remote areas (70%) than in non-remote areas (55%). A smaller proportion of children aged 0–3 years in remote areas had never been breastfed compared with children in non-remote areas (14% and 25% respectively).
In 2010, the Australian National Infant Feeding Survey found that 59% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants and 61% of non-Indigenous infants less than one month of age were exclusively breastfed. At less than 3 months, 33% of Indigenous infants were exclusively breastfed compared to 48% of non-Indigenous infants. At less than 6 months, 7% of Indigenous infants were exclusively breastfed compared to 16% of non-Indigenous infants.
This survey also found that a higher proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living in areas in the most advantaged quintile been breastfed at some point (99%) compared with children living in areas the most disadvantaged quintile (93%). These proportions were similar for non-Indigenous children in areas in the most advantaged quintile (98%) and in areas in the most disadvantaged quintile (94%).
In this survey, 31% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants aged three months had received soft, semi-solid or solid food in the last 24 hours compared to 9% of non-Indigenous infants. By the time infants reached 5 months, similar proportions of both groups had been given soft, semi-solid or solid food (70%).
A study of 476 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, attending 34 Indigenous community health centres across Australia, found that 24% received advice about breastfeeding during an antenatal check, compared to 47% during a postnatal visit (Rumbold et al. 2011).
While numerous mainstream epidemiological studies have found maternal smoking to be negatively associated with breastfeeding initiation and duration, a study of 425 Aboriginal mothers in Perth found no such association (Gilchrist et al. 2004). This is an area requiring more Indigenous-specific research.Top of Page
Implications:Opportunities exist for the promotion of breastfeeding in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities in educational settings and within the health sector, particularly in antenatal and post-natal care.
The Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy 2010–2015 was endorsed by Health Ministers on 13 November 2009. The Strategy aims to protect, promote, support and monitor breastfeeding in Australia, and recognises the importance of breastfeeding support especially for priority groups. The Breastfeeding Strategy recognises the contribution of the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Early Childhood Development and related Commonwealth initiatives such as New Directions Mothers and Babies Services in supporting breastfeeding and parenting skills.
Monitoring of breastfeeding practices should be undertaken in conjunction with diabetes (see measure 1.09), ear health (see measure 1.15), infant and child mortality (see measure 1.20), perinatal mortality (see measure 1.21) and antenatal care (see measure 3.01).
Figure 134—Proportion of children ever breastfed, by Indigenous status and socioeconomic status of the area in which they were living, 2010Top of Page
2010 Infant Feeding Survey
Figure 135—Duration of exclusive breastfeeding to each month of age, by Indigenous status, 2010Top of Page
2010 Infant Feeding SurveyTop of Page
Table 37—Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged 0–3 years, breastfeeding status by state/territory, 2008
|Breastfeeding age range:|
|0 to < 6 months|
|6 months or more|
|Total children 0-3 years|
‡ estimates with a relative standard error of 25% to 50% should be used with caution.
Source: ABS analysis of the 2008 NATSISS