The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) has teamed up with Eurobodalla Shire Council and Snowy Monaro Regional Council to ensure regional women can access the breastfeeding support they need in a COVID-19-safe way.
The project will provide sponsored places at Breastfeeding Education Live sessions, and 12 months ongoing support via membership for up to 15 women in the Eurobodalla region, and up to 30 women in the Snowy Monaro region, with additional funds to allow the groups to provide face-to-face meetings.
The online sessions were trialled in the ACT during COVID-19 lockdown when face-to-face meetings weren’t possible. Aimee Solomon, from Canberra suburb Lyons, was among those women who participated in the classes.
“The classes were really helpful,” she says. “I was quite anxious, with the onset of the pandemic coinciding with the birth of my first baby. I really wanted to breastfeed.”
The Australian Breastfeeding Association Eurobodalla group leader, Michelle Mitchell, says Aimee’s anxiety is echoed around the Eurobodalla and is more than just the usual nerves new parents experience.
“After the extreme bushfire conditions of 2019-2020, many expectant or new families have been left feeling vulnerable and traumatised – their need for support is greater than ever,” says Michelle. “But just as we were getting our heads around the task of bushfire recovery, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives in a completely different way.”
Aimee is sitting by a lake breastfeeding her 12-week old son when I call.
“It’s gone really well so far,” she laughs. “He’s a big boy – more than 4kg when he was born and he’s now around 7kg.”
The tips and tricks Aimee learnt from the ABA classes have been invaluable, she says.
“I realised when I had a baby that I had never really seen anyone breastfeed,” she says. “My sisters-in-law always fed in another room and you don’t often see women feeding in public. The classes really normalised breastfeeding so I don’t feel strange about feeding my baby in public. I feel quite empowered.”
Australian Breastfeeding Association president Margaret Grove says, “A lot of expectant parents have never held a baby, let alone seen one being breastfed. Many have missed out on traditional learning through the generations. That’s why it’s so important they have access to the kind of prenatal education ABA is providing.
“Online sessions are different from face-to-face interaction, but they have many benefits. Many people enjoy attending the meetings from the comfort of their own home. They are able to ask questions and interact with other expectant parents in a small group.”
Both Michelle and Snowy Monaro ABA group leader Karen Clarke say that even before COVID-19 restrictions, there were barriers for parents to access breastfeeding support in their areas.
“Pregnant women in the Snowy Monaro area have previously had to travel to Canberra or Wagga Wagga to access Breastfeeding Education Classes run by the Australian Breastfeeding Association,” explains Karen.
Michelle says the online classes on offer through ABA are often the only support available to new parents.
“Right now there are limited support services for expectant or new parents in the Eurobodalla Shire, including no publicly available face-to-face or online antenatal classes,” she says.
But it’s not just a regional problem.
ABA’s ACT co-group leader, Arianwen Harris, says, “We are running a similar project and have found 80 per cent of women signing up have had trouble accessing antenatal education – and they are in a capital city. We know rural and regional mums can find it harder to access local support. Travel time is often a barrier.”
There are so many reasons to try breastfeeding and 2020 has shown us that emergency preparedness is one of them.
“Breastfeeding is a useful tool for emergency preparedness as it does not require water, electricity or equipment, reducing the need for breastfeeding families to rely on services during emergencies,” says Michelle. “As we start looking ahead to this year’s bushfire season, many families will be wanting to prepare their bushfire plans earlier, especially those who are welcoming babies soon.”
Pregnant women in the Eurobodalla who are interested in the Breastfeeding Education Live program should complete a short survey to show your interest here, while women in the Snowy Monaro can fill out the survey here.
For more information and to find a local group, visit the Australian Breastfeeding Association.