This paper provides a brief overview of the research evidence on the health and learning outcomes for children who are breastfed and look at national data on breastfeeding rates. This is followed by an overview of the evidence on the effects of breastfeeding for maternal health, women’s participation in the labour market and family well-being.
It then explores possible reasons for the apparent oversight of breastfeeding in early childhood research literature as well as in written guidelines and policies in early childhood centres.
The paper concludes with an explanation of how breastfeeding support in the early childhood setting fits with the government’s current goals of increasing participation in early childhood education, improving the quality of services, and promoting collaborative relationships with parents, families and others.
By Sarah Alexander and Judith Galtry
In April 2003 we released a report on an exploratory research study titled “Developing Breastfeeding-Friendly Childcare to Support Mothers in Paid Employment and Studying” (Farquhar & Galtry, 2003). This research was part of a larger study by Judith on workplace support for employees who were breastfeeding, funded by the Equal Employment Opportunities Contestable Fund administered by the Trust, the Department of Labour, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (Galtry & Annandale, 2003). Judith had successfully argued with the Trust for the need to include an examination of breastfeeding in childcare services alongside that of workplace support for the reason that without effective child care support women’s ability to continue breastfeeding is constrained. Judith asked Sarah who has a background in early childhood education to undertake case studies of two early childhood centres that supported breastfeeding. Together, we drafted a tentative set of guidelines for early childhood services to use.
Since the release of the report on “Developing Breastfeeding-Friendly Childcare”, we have received a lot of interest from groups and individuals in the health sector, and only a small number of requests from individuals in the early childhood education sector. Media attention centred on the case of a mother who laid a formal complaint with the Humans Rights Commission after being told by early childhood centre staff on her son’s second day at the Centre that he would not be allowed back if she breastfed him at the centre. This is not an isolated case, as our research identified the possibility that many more mothers are being directly and indirectly asked to decide between (a) giving up breastfeeding or breastfeeding in secrecy (e.g. taking baby down the road from their centre to breastfeed in the car), and (b) not enrolling in an early childhood service or delaying their return to work because they do not have adequate childcare support.
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