Breaking down barriers: Overcoming obstacles to breastfeeding

Small steps we can all take to help reduce these roadblocks.
Written by
Alexandra McCarthy
Reviewed by
Last updated on
June 3, 2024
min read
Barriers to Breastfeeding: Overcoming Common Obstacles | Kin Fertility
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Breastfeeding is far from a walk in the park — it is a skill that takes time to learn and can often include a number of hurdles. While physical manifestations, like cracked nipples or postpartum fatigue, can commonly impact a person's ability to breastfeed, there are other social factors that play a role.

We're looking at some of the most common barriers to breastfeeding and how they impact mothers, as well as ways we can take small steps to reduce these roadblocks, help improve breastfeeding outcomes and make the experience easier for parents.

Common barriers to breastfeeding

Let's look at some of the reasons that stop parents from breastfeeding.

Lactation issues

It's incredibly common to experience lactation issues or a myriad of hardships when it comes to breastfeeding. At a glance, breastfeeding mothers can encounter everything from nipple pain, blocked milk ducts, mastitis, and bleeding nipples to painful letdown, milk blebs, and nipple thrush.

While these won't happen to every mother, it is the reality for many. And, according to the Breastfeeding Coalition Tasmania, those who encounter breastfeeding issues in the early weeks are less likely to continue with it unless they access help from professionals or trained counsellors, which isn't accessible for everyone [1].

Kin's Breastfeeding Essentials can assist with some of those issues — our natural Nipple Balm helps soothe and restore sore nipples, while our lightweight Breast Pads absorb moisture while easing discomfort from sensitive or sore nipples.

Lack of breastfeeding support

Issues with lactation and a lack of breastfeeding support go hand-in-hand and it makes sense that those who lack access to meaningful support tend to stop breastfeeding earlier.

According to the Australian Government's Institute of Health and Welfare, women who received any form of support were less likely to stop exclusive breastfeeding before 5 months than those who didn't [2].

This support can range from home visits from trained professionals, online support groups, and access to helplines as well as encouragement from partners, friends and family. The impact of those closest to the mother can't be understated, with research showing that a supportive partner, family and friends can have a positive influence on initiating and sustaining breastfeeding [2].

Lack of knowledge about breastfeeding

The same goes for a lack of knowledge about breastfeeding — it's common for parents to not know a lot about breastfeeding until they fall pregnant.

Keep in mind that breastfeeding is something both mother and baby need to learn how to do and if you don't have adequate access to knowledge about it, chances are you could find it quite difficult and it may result in stepping.

Returning to work

Going back to work poses another barrier, especially if there isn't any assistance from workplaces to support breastfeeding mothers. Many workplaces don't offer flexible work arrangements or appropriate spaces to both express and store breast milk, which makes it harder to continue with one's breastfeeding journey.

And, the proof is in the pudding: women who have access to working from home, flexible working hours, private spaces for expressing milk and paid maternal and paternal leave were more likely to breastfeed for longer [2].

Fear of feeding in public

Feelings of fear or embarrassment about breastfeeding in public are incredibly common and can curtail a parent's breastfeeding journey. And, it's completely understandable, especially when mothers feel they are being judged by members of the public.

In some cases, breastfeeding parents are asked to leave establishments like cafes and restaurants for breastfeeding, despite legislation prohibiting this.

In Australia, breastfeeding is protected by the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984. According to the Act, it's illegal to discriminate against a person either directly or indirectly on the ground of breastfeeding. This also includes parents who need to express breast milk by hand or using a pump [3].

Even with a law that recognises breastfeeding as a right, not a privilege, social attitudes towards breastfeeding in public can still be far from accepting, making it less comfortable for mothers to feed their children while out and about.

Other factors

There are many other barriers that can play a role in a mother's ability to breastfeed [2].

  • Age: Mothers 25 and under were less likely to exclusively breastfeed to 4 months compared to parents aged 35 and older
  • Socioeconomic status: Those with lower levels of education, income and socioeconomic status had lower rates of breastfeeding
  • Cultural diversity: Mothers with a culturally and linguistically diverse background were more likely to cease breastfeeding within 6 months
  • Obesity: Those living with obesity (who had a body mass index of 30 or higher) were found to have lower rates of breastfeeding

What can we do to reduce barriers to breastfeeding?

Now that we've explored some of the most common barriers to breastfeeding, what can we do to help reduce these? Well, there are a few things. While we can't illicit change everywhere, we can begin to take steps in some of these areas.

For starters, Kin Fertility offers easily accessible information about breastfeeding on our blog to help tackle a lack of knowledge about breastfeeding. If you're dealing with breastfeeding issues, chances are we've covered it and can offer some help.

When it comes to a fear of feeding in public, we led a survey to better understand the impact of this and many Australian mums are grappling with this. In fact, our survey found that:

  • 72% of mothers said that fear of social commentary is the biggest barrier they face when it comes to breastfeeding in public
  • 2 in 3 women feel uncomfortable breastfeeding or pumping in public
  • 94% of respondents said they would use designated safe spaces to feed if they existed

The message is clear: Australian women need more BFF spaces. More BreastFeeding Friendly spaces that protect a mum's right to breastfeed or breast pump and welcome their choice to do so whenever they need to.

With this in mind, we're calling upon you to pledge your BFF business! Display a window decal to welcome breastfeeding or pumping mums into your judgement-free space. Let your community know you're a BFF space with our downloadable social media templates.

Ultimately, the way you choose to feed your baby is completely up to what works for you — whether that's going down the route of exclusively breastfeeding, using infant formula or a combination of both. There is absolutely nothing wrong with formula feeding — fed is best, in all circumstances.

We simply want to support those who are breastfeeding and make the experience as easy as possible. And, if we can do that through the creation of more BFF spaces across the country, then parents might feel more empowered to feed their babies in public without fear or judgement.

Want more information? Learn all about Kin's BFF campaign here.

Breastfeeding Essentials

Easy solutions for breast discomfort and breastfeeding challenges
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