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Byron Shire
March 6, 2021

Breastfeeding support has come a long way

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Mums and kids celebrate at the Australian Breastfeeding Association northern rivers birthday bash.
Mums and kids celebrate at the Australian Breastfeeding Association northern rivers birthday bash.

Story and photos Melissa Hargraves

Fifty years of breastfeeding support in Australia and 40 years for Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) northern rivers were celebrated by families in Lismore recently at their regular Mum2Mum morning.

Fifty years ago, the word breastfeeding could not appear on an envelope and women were expected to retire to a back room to breastfeed their baby. Support for breastfeeding families was almost obsolete.

Then in 1964 Mary Paton was joined by five other foundation members to found the Nursing Mothers’ Association (NMA) with the goal of helping mothers breastfeed their babies.

In 2001 the NMA changed its name to the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA).

The group of founding members were frustrated by the lack of accurate information on how breastfeeding worked and how to overcome everyday challenges, so they sought to provide support and evidence based information so mothers like themselves could help each other.

‘It can be hard to imagine but when ABA started there weren’t any books on breastfeeding available in Australia, you had to send to the USA for one’, Lismore group leader Ros Fleetwood says.

‘Fifty years later ABA produces a huge range of information for parents and health professionals,’ Ms Fleetwood said.

‘Our volunteers run more than 230 support groups around Australia and staff a 24-hour Breastfeeding Helpline. Breastfeeding counsellors and community educators help more than 80,000 mothers each year.

‘Research shows that more than 90 per cent of Australian mothers want to breastfeed. They need the same support now as the mothers in 1964 did, so that they can breastfeed for as long as they choose to,’ she said.

Community educator for ABA Lismore, Larisa Barnes, told Echonetdaily she also believes ABA is as relevant now as it was fifty years ago.

‘Lots of mums live at a distance from their relatives, so ABA can form a support network for those mums,’ Ms Barnes said.

‘There is a lot of experiential mothering knowledge that you can’t read in books, knowledge that you learn from other mums, from being with other mums and supporting each other.

‘Mothers’ groups like ABA also give support and acknowledge the hard work we do as mums every minute of the day. I think mums will always need other mums.’

According to Ms Barnes, women can legally breastfeed in public.

‘A mother’s right to breastfeed her child in public places is protected by law both federally and in every state and territory of Australia,’ she said.

‘In addition, it is acknowledged that babies have the right to be breastfed.


‘Most people recognise that breastfeeding your baby is a normal and natural thing to do, and most mums work out how to most comfortably feed their babies when they are out and about.’

The group is not restricted to breastfeeding mums only.

‘Some of our members are mums who exclusively express breast milk and feed it to their babies through bottles or other nursing systems, other mums partially breastfeed and partially formula-feed,’ Ms Barnes said.

‘Many of our members are mothers who had a difficult time breastfeeding their first child and have joined ABA for support and help breastfeeding subsequent children.

‘Other members have older children and remain members of ABA because they value the support and friendships the association gave them and want to continue to support the association.

‘In addition, we have a lot of health professionals who are members of the association because they value the association and want to support it.

‘Dads and other men can also join the association, so no, you don’t have to be breastfeeding to join ABA!’ Ms Barnes said.

The Lismore group of the ABA holds monthly Mum2Mum discussion meetings on the second Friday of every month from 10am-noon downstairs in the Lismore branch of the Richmond Tweed Regional Library.

Ms Barnes said ‘at these meetings we generally have a discussion topic on babies, breastfeeding andor parenting and family needs, and mothers also can talk to qualified breastfeeding counsellors face-to-face for mum-to-mum support and help with breastfeeding questions.

‘Mothers also like socialising with other mothers at these meetings and catching up. During the fourth week of the month we have ‘Out and about with Baby’ days where we may meet at members’ homes or playgrounds etc for additional social support.’

A new group has also started in Mullumbimby who meet on the first Wednesday of the month for discussion meetings and have a cuppa and chat mornings on the third Wednesday of the month.

Ms Barnes said there was much community support for breastfeeding mothers in the northern rivers.

‘Many local businesses and places display the ABA Breastfeeding “Welcome Here” stickers, which are a wonderful practical way of showing support for breastfeeding in our community,’ she said.

For more information on ABA go to https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au


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