New research from The University of Queensland, and published in Public Health Nutrition has found that a woman’s education level and the number of children she has will impact on breast feeding, with the ‘baby of the family’ most likely to miss out.

UQ School of Public Health PhD candidate Natalie Holowko analysed data reported by more than 4700 mothers in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH) to determine how socioeconomic factors and birth order impact breastfeeding rates.

“Breastfeeding reduces a child’s risk of being overweight or obese, making it one of the first lines of defence against the emerging obesity epidemic,” Ms Holowko said.

“We found that while breastfeeding was started with 83 per cent of newborns, only 59 per cent of six month olds were still being breastfed.”

The study found that women with only high school education were almost half as likely to initiate breastfeeding or to breastfeed for the recommended six months than women who went to university.

However, Ms Holowko said there was a paradox when it came to the ‘baby of the family’.

“We discovered that women were less likely to breastfeed their youngest child—particularly if they had a higher level of education,” she said.

“This may suggest that women are returning to work soon after having reached their desired number of children.

“It was also interesting to see that women with a parent who had fewer than 10 years of education were also about one-and-a-half times as likely to not breastfeed.”

The number of children a woman had influenced breastfeeding as well, with firstborns more likely to be breastfed if their mothers went on to have more children.

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

“What we are seeing is that most women start breastfeeding but they are not continuing with it,” Ms Holowko said.

“To encourage women to start and sustain breastfeeding where possible, there needs to be more focus on removing barriers—at home, at work and in the community.”

The paper ‘High education and increased parity are associated with breast-feeding initiation and duration among Australian women’ is freely available until the 30th April 2016.

Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH) is a long-running survey funded by the Australian Government Department of Health to provide evidence to develop and evaluate policies to lead to better health for all Australian women.  Now in its twentieth year, ALSWH involves more than 50,000 women in four cohorts, selected from the Australian population.  ALSWH contributes to global knowledge of women’s health through national and international research collaborations and is conducted by staff and investigators at The University of Newcastle and The University of Queensland.

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