World Breastfeeding Week - the public health perspective

Friday, July 31, 2020

Ok, let’s start by setting the breastfeeding scene in Queensland:

  • Almost all Queensland infants receive breastmilk at birth and the number of babies receiving only breastmilk at hospital discharge has been relatively high (CHO report, 2018).
  • By age six months, breastfeeding rates drop to two in three infants receiving some breastmilk and by 12 months, rates again drop to one in three infants receiving some breastmilk (CHO report, 2018).
  • Exclusive breastfeeding rates, where the infant receives only breastmilk, are poor, with only 29 per cent of infants exclusively breastfed to four months of age, and only five per cent exclusively breastfed to six months of age (CHO report, 2018).

Most women understand the importance of breastfeeding and want to breastfeed but they need access to high quality support to overcome societal, family and health service barriers.

As health professionals, we have a crucial role to protect, promote and support lactating women and breastfeeding, and to provide access to evidence-based, culturally safe breastfeeding education, adequate support and clinical care services.  

The WHO/UNICEF ‘Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding outlines steps to protect, promote and support breastfeeding from birth and beyond including:

  1. skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby immediately after birth and initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of life
  2. breastfeeding on demand (that is, as often as the child wants, day and night)
  3. rooming-in (allowing mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day)
  4. not giving babies additional food or drink, even water, unless medically necessary
  5. provision of supportive health services during all contacts with caregivers and young children, such as during antenatal and postnatal care, well-child and sick child visits, and immunisation
  6. community support, including mother support groups and community-based health promotion and education activities.

You can support new parents by:

  • providing consistent, evidence-based, information about the physical and emotional benefits for breastfeeding for both mother and child
  • ensuring our health services and other settings/environments protect, promote and support breastfeeding
  • accessing your own adequate, evidence-based breastfeeding education and training that is free from commercial influence.

COVID-19 and breastfeeding – what is recommended?

There is no indication that coronavirus is present in breastmilk or evidence to suggest that COVID-19 is spread through breast milk. We are, however, still learning about COVID–19 as the situation develops across the globe.

Given that breastmilk offers immune protection from mother to infant for other respiratory viruses, the decision to breastfeed is currently supported by the World Health Organization and by Queensland Health. However, coronavirus is easily passed from person to person through close contact. Mothers are encouraged to breastfeed with extra care to avoid spreading the virus from mum to baby. The family’s healthcare team, in particular the midwife, will discuss a woman’s individual situation and feeding options.

Additional precautions are recommended while in close contact with baby, (this is recommended for other infections as well). In addition to the ‘ten steps for successful breastfeeding’ outlined above, it is very important for mothers to:

  • wash their hands before and after touching the baby - use soap and water for 20 seconds or alcohol-based hand sanitiser/gel
  • wash their hands before touching a breast pump or bottle parts and clean all parts after each use
  • routinely clean and disinfect surfaces that have been touched
  • wear a mask while in close contact including while breastfeeding
  • have a healthy adult assist mum to care for her baby where possible
  • if someone in your household is self-isolating or unwell with any condition, then they should not interact with baby.

Health professionals can find more information at:

To refer mothers and their families to accurate, evidence-based information we recommend the following websites:

hwq woman breastfeeding

Image courtesy of Health and Wellbeing Queensland

Clinical Excellence Queensland thanks Health and Wellbeing Queensland for contributing to the development of this blog post

Last updated: 31 July 2020