Secret pressure facing new mums: Australian women feel ‘judged’ over breastfeeding decisions
Lanai Scarr, Senior Writer, News Corp Australia Network
Three in four Australian mums say they have been judged over their decision on whether or not to breastfeed and are suffering feelings of loneliness and frustration as a result.
Maternal experts are worried about a surge in postnatal depression and anxiety with the rise in social media adding to the woes for new parents.
News Corp Australia can reveal research that shows the extent to which new mothers are struggling with breastfeeding and where the pressure points are coming from.
The research of more than 1000 Australian mums found that while the majority do attempt to breastfeed (88 per cent), three in four mums (78 per cent) face challenges with feeding and 77 per cent felt judged on whether or not they were breastfeeding.
Three in four Australian mums say they have been judged over their decision on whether or not to breastfeed.
The research also found:
- One in two (65 per cent) experienced feelings of loneliness and frustration when it came to breastfeeding;
- Fifty-two per cent of Australian mothers felt pressure from social media as a new mum, 48 per cent said they felt pressure towards breastfeeding on social media and more than 60 per cent felt overwhelmed once to multiple times per day in the first 12 months with baby.
The research was conducted by Pure Profile on behalf of Philips Avent and comes ahead of World Breastfeeding week this week (August 1-7).
The figures have shocked experts who say if more is not done to support new parents; the risk for an increase in rates of postnatal depression is real possibility.
New mums have reported feeling lonely and frustrated about breastfeeding.
Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone said looking at women’s feeding choices negatively had the potential to contribute to postnatal depression rates increasing.
“The development of postnatal depression it is multifactorial, but certainly if we don’t do what we are supposed to do in terms of supporting a woman’s feeding choices we can potentially increase the likelihood of development postnatal depression,” Dr Bartone said.
“(Breastfeeding) should not be pursued to the extent that it can shame women.”
Research suggests that some degree of depression is experienced by one in 10 women during pregnancy and one in six women in the year after the birth of their baby.
Peri-natal Anxiety and Depression Australia chief executive, Terri Smith, said many new mothers were continuing to hide their struggles and suffer in silence.
“We know pressures on new mums like exhaustion, isolation, or expectations around breastfeeding are just some of the many factors that can contribute to postnatal depression or anxiety,” Ms Smith said.
“Sadly, many women affected by this serious and common illness still don’t seek help due to not recognising they are ill or through a belief they will be judged a bad mother.”
Alys Gagnon, executive director of The Parenthood, who wrote about her breastfeeding challenge in The Motherhood, said if Australian mothers did not receive more support on their feeding journey it would “absolutely” lead to more cases of postnatal depression.
“Inclusion is really important to securing someone’s mental health and when we judge parents for their feeding choices, that is a form of exclusion which is further entrenching mental health difficulties,” she said.
“There must be a balance between getting good advice about formula feeding and supporting the rights of mums and babies to breastfeed. It’s very strange to me that even in 2018 this is still so fraught. Mums are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the federal government was working with all states and territories to develop the Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy to deliver more co-ordinated support across the country — due to be finalised by next year.
“Mothers know what is best for their babies and they should be supported in making their own decisions,” a spokesman for Mr Hunt said.
Opposition Health spokeswoman Catherine King said any potential increase to postnatal depression rates as a result of breastfeeding stigma needed to be taken seriously.
“Women need to be supported to breastfeed and figures suggesting anxiety about breastfeeding is contributing to feelings of loneliness and depression need to be taken seriously.”