Education key to raising breastfeeding rates in regional Australia

5 SEPTEMBER 2022

Education key to raising breastfeeding rates in regional Australia

Startlingly low figures for breastfeeding rates in regional Australia have prompted calls for better education from a Charles Sturt researcher.

  • Charles Sturt research looks at how breastmilk can assist in neuro-development functions from fetus to late life
  • Research has shown that breastfeeding can also reduce a mother’s risk of diseases, such as ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes
  • Women’s Health Week is from Monday 5 to Sunday 11 September in 2022

A Charles Sturt University academic said women are the cornerstone to the health of the family unit but often overlook their own health despite being at high risk for heart disease and cancer.

Professor of Physiology and Nutrition/Research and Teaching in the Charles Sturt School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences in Wagga Wagga Bing Wang is very familiar with the health needs of women and the family.

She has been studying the health of mothers and babies for years and is currently conducting research titled ‘Breastfeeding and Early Life Nutrition Promotes the Healthy Growth and Neurodevelopment of Infants’..

This project aims to explain the mechanism of how nutrient compounds alter metabolic responses important in neuro-dependant functions from fetus to late life, and to translate this basic science to clinical studies and industry benefits.

Researchers are hoping to translate these discoveries from a preclinical study into human clinical trials.

“Human clinical trials provide important clinical evidence of the importance of breastfeeding and early life nutrition for healthy infant and child development and prevention of later adult-onset disease,” Professor Wang said.

Professor Wang’s work also focuses on discovering lactation and milk bioactivates compounds and their applications for human health.

There is already much known about the health benefits of breastfeeding for mother and child, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and National Health and Medical Research Council recommending exclusively breastfeeding until the infant is six months of age.

Data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in June 2022 indicated one in three babies (35 per cent) were exclusively breastfed until six months of age. The goal of the 'Australian National Breastfeeding Survey: 2019 and beyond' is to increase exclusive breastfeeding rates at six months from 29 per cent in 2019 to 40 per cent in 2022 and to 50 per cent in 2025.

Through her research, a major aim of Professor Wang is to promote the benefits of breastfeeding, especially in regional populations where figures show less than 20 per cent of babies are exclusively breastfed until six months old.

Professor Wang said the low regional rates could be attributed to the high maternal body mass index, low socioeconomic status or some overall health issues of the mother or neonate.

Research is also proving the benefits of breastfeeding for the mother.

“Breastfeeding can reduce the mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure,” Professor Wang said.

“Breastfeeding also saves families money because it eliminates the need for commercial infant formula.”

Professor Wang said women are the cornerstone of the overall health of the family but often overlook their own health, which is worrying considering the high risk for certain diseases, including breast cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

She wants to draw people’s attention to these issues and more during Women’s Heath Week, which runs from Monday 5 to Sunday 11 September.

“Women’s health is closely linked to the health of their families and communities,” she said.

“In many societies, women are disadvantaged by discrimination rooted in sociocultural factors.

“Thousands of doctors, nurses and medical scientists, academics and social workers have been working in the field to advance women's health, so it's important for us to recognise Women’s Health Week.

“What Women’s Health Week means to the University and the community is to celebrate our impact and research and teaching achievements in women’s health, to identify major public health issues in women’s health, and to look ahead to future research directions.”

Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Professor Bing Wang, contact Nicole Barlow at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0429 217 026 or news@csu.edu.au

Photo caption: Professor Bing Wang (centre) with Charles Sturt Lecturer of Animal Physiology Dr Nidhish Francis and PhD candidate Miss Jaishree Ravindran.

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