width=204The culture of breastfeeding in Australia needs to be altered if health advantages such as the prevention of metabolic diseases in mothers is to be achieved, says the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

In a study published in the US journal Diabetes Care, of 50,000 women, those who have children are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to those who never give birth. It also found breastfeeding for 3 months per child can counteract that risk.

Kate Mortensen, manager of the association's lactation resource centre says while this is good news, much more is needed to be done for breastfeeding babies and mothers.

Only about 65 per cent of Australian mothers are still breastfeeding by the time babies reach three months of age, by six months, the figure reduces to about 40 per cent, she adds.

That's been the state of play for quite a number of years, she said.

Mothers still choose to breastfeed, it's just that they are not seemingly able to keep it going, and so we need skilled lactation support for problems they face.

They need good maternity leave so they know they do have a period where they can be at home with their babies and establish lactation. They need good community support and we need more knowledge about breastfeeding out there.

One of the most common reasons why mothers begin supplementing with formula is due to perceived low supply, says Ms Mortensen.

Overall from my 20 years of counseling mothers, it seems that mothers don't realize there is not this deep community understanding that a breastfed baby need to be fed anywhere between eight and 12 times in 24 hours - so that means you are feeding a baby quite often, she said.

There is still this old-fashioned idea that a mother should feed a baby three to four hourly at evenly spaced times throughout the day, which is totally unrealistic.

The normal baby will have lots of frequent feeds and their feeding patterns change as they get older.

Australia's most recent dietary guidelines published in 2003 suggest 80 per cent of mothers breastfeeding at six months is an achievable goal.

Ms Mortensen says we have not reached that yet. The health benefits associated with breastfeeding are well-known and the recent Australian study supports the previous research in the US, which found the longer the duration of breastfeeding, the lower the risk of diabetes for the mother.

There is research around lactation helping to reduce the weight that you keep from pregnancy. It also affects where your weight is lost from.

You're in a different metabolic state while you're breastfeeding. You have a reduced reaction to stress and you have a lowered blood pressure.

The research on weight loss because of lactation is quite mixed but overall it does seem to have a beneficial effect on mother's weight loss - breastfeeding does use calories, but it also affects your metabolism.

You require less insulin while you're breastfeeding, so it affects your metabolism at quite a deep level, said Ms Mortensen.