Understanding early formula use among Chinese Australian families

A new study shows why some Chinese Australian mothers are able to maintain exclusive breastfeeding while others introduce formula early despite their initial intention to breastfeed only.  This paper provides valuable insights into culturally tailored breastfeeding interventions targeting Chinese Australian families.

The early days of bringing home a baby is an exciting but also stressful time for many parents.  While generally mothers reported intentions to breastfeed only, many already introduced formula before the baby is one month old.  Early formula use is linked with rapid weight gain in infancy and later childhood overweight or obesity hence measures to promote exclusive breastfeeding are important.

A study led by PhD candidate and EPOCH affiliate, Konsita Kuswara, investigates how early feeding decisions are shaped among Chinese Australian mothers.   She found that maternal commitment to breastfeeding is an important driver to getting through the initial breastfeeding challenges and maintaining exclusive breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding was found to be important in the development of participants’ motherhood identity.  When breastfeeding became an expression of motherhood, Chinese Australian mothers were empowered to breastfeed and enjoyed the process regardless of its challenges.

In contrast, when the motivation to breastfeed was primarily for convenience or to fit into societal expectations, exclusive breastfeeding was difficult to sustain, and formula was subsequently introduced.  These mothers struggled with identity conflicts and feelings of guilt and failure, which increased the risks of postnatal depression.

It seems that the key to supporting Chinese Australian mothers to breastfeed exclusively is by encouraging a strong sense of motherhood through breastfeeding.  Health professionals are well placed to intervene by increasing Chinese Australian mothers’ breastfeeding competence, adopting a family centred approach in breastfeeding education and support, and emphasising the unique emotional benefits of breastfeeding over health or convenience reasons.

This paper has been published in Women and Birth and would be useful to health practitioners who provide breastfeeding support to Chinese patients during pregnancy and early infancy.

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