Breastfeeding a child is not easy for working mothers and most employers know precious little about the best ways of addressing this real world problem.
Dr Julie Smith, a health economist and research fellow at the Australian Centre for Economic Research on Health at The Australian National University, says basic evidence delivered in the right way could make all the difference.
Dr Smith is working with the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) plus a team of researchers from Flinders University and the University of New South Wales to generate new knowledge on how to strengthen community and policy support for mothers who are combining employment and breastfeeding.
The study, supported by an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant, involves asking employers such as major banks and government departments, ‘what’s in it for them?’. Dr Smith says three hallmarks of these employers are:
- Senior management support
- Provision of clean and private spaces where mothers can store milk and be with their babies
- Flexibility in work hours, so mothers can take time off for lactation breaks
“The partnership with the Australian Breastfeeding Association draws on the experience at the grassroots level to help them develop a model to work with employers and the child care industry,” Dr Smith explains.
Dr Smith says assisting employed mothers to continue breastfeeding will reduce adverse impacts of genetic, social and environmental factors predisposing infants and children to ill health. “It will also help prevent disease, and help mothers reconcile labour force participation with protecting their own and their children’s health.”
ABA President Querida David says that her organisation anticipates many benefits from partnering with university researchers.
“Promoting the identification, implementation, evaluation and expansion of effective strategies to support breastfeeding mothers is critically important to fulfilling ABA’s mission of educating and supporting mothers, using up-to-date research findings and the practical experiences of women and influencing society to acknowledge breastfeeding as normal,” Mrs David says.
“The Association believes that the active engagement of researchers at ANU and other leading Australian universities will contribute substantially to our organisational capacity and networks, while significantly enhancing the extent and quality of research on effective interventions to support breastfeeding in Australia.”
Following the completion of the study, there will be a series of knowledge exchange seminars in cities and regional centres around Australia to help ABA engage with human resource departments for major employers.