You may be familiar with the news reporting infant formula shortages due to stockpiling by Chinese shoppers for reselling in China. These unfortunate incidents may have contributed to a perception that Chinese Australian mothers prefer formula over breastfeeding.
It is well established that breastfeeding is the gold standard of infant feeding and I was interested to find out if the media portrayals about formula use are also true among Chinese Australian mothers and how they can be better supported to breastfeed.
To this end, I surveyed around 300 Chinese Australian mothers. The survey showed that infant formula use increased significantly in the early postnatal period from 7% at birth to 55% at 4 weeks of age and 62% at 6 months.
Interestingly, the survey also showed that breastfeeding rates remained high throughout the first two years of life. At 12 months of age around half of the infants continued to receive some breast milk while at least one in five children continued to receive breast milk at 2 years of age.
The high rates of breastfeeding, as well as formula feeding, suggest that infant formula was predominantly used to supplement rather than to replace breastfeeding, contrary to the stereotype that Chinese Australian mothers don’t breastfeed.
The survey suggests that strengthening breastfeeding confidence, knowledge and motivation were key to improving exclusive breastfeeding rates among Chinese Australian mothers. In-depth interviews with these mothers suggest that providing family-centred breastfeeding support and having consistent messages in overcoming common breastfeeding challenges are important strategies to support mothers in exclusive breastfeeding.
Like mothers everywhere, Chinese Australian mothers aspire to do the best by breastfeeding their baby. Instead of blaming individuals, let’s focus on creating a supportive environment where breastfeeding becomes the easy choice for mothers, whatever their cultural backgrounds.
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