Mental health is in the mouths of babes

ANN MCRAE was a journalist with the West Australian and the ABC from 1966-2014, a counsellor with the Nursing Mothers Association for 25 years, and a member of the King Edward Memorial Hospital Community Advisory Council for 12 years.

EVERY day there are news reports of a pandemic of mental health problems that is crippling our world with suicides, domestic violence episodes, mass shootings, addiction and plain old debilitating depression.

The latest report indicates Australia is losing $500 million dollars a day in mental health costs and that even toddlers are not free of the affliction.

A seemingly endless drought that is destroying our farmlands and burning up our bushland adds to our mental distress, but it is a drought of another kind that I believe is at the heart of our mental health problems.

Where has all the breastmilk gone?

Fewer and fewer Australian babies are being breastfed every year and this drought at the breastfront holds the key to our mental health.


The old mantra: Give me a child till he is seven and I will give you the man, has never been more true.

How we birth our babies, how we love those babies at the breast and in our arms and the caring parental environment within which we raise them is the key to a better future for us all.

Modern Australian hospitals continue to boast that they are “Breastfeeding Friendly”, but in reality new mothers spend only a few hours in hospital after birthing their babies and breastfeeding blossoms or dries up on the homefront.

Newborn babies may be ‘put to the breast’ in 95 per cent of births, but the sad fact is that by six weeks less than 20 per cent are still being fully breastfed and even that number diminishes rapidly in the early months as mothers return to the workforce in droves.

World Heath promotes breast feeding alone for the first six months of life and continuing access to the mother’s breast for two years.   

Try fitting that into our western society where the pursuit of the mighty dollar pushes mothers back into the workforce and rewards them with platitudes and subsidised childcare services.

Maternity hospitals contribute further to our ‘sad society’ with most births listed as induced, caesarean, forceps delivery or drug-assisted.

Something as natural as breastfeeding will struggle to succeed after a difficult birth.

Governments throwing around millions of dollars to fix the ‘mental health’ problem is bound to be the same failure as throwing billions at indigenous people in the hope of making them feel better about being colonised.

How do I dare to say that mothers must work towards more natural births, breastfeed for two years, sleep with their babies as mothers have done for centuries, focus on loving their children and especially work on having a happy marriage?

I dare because happy babies from happy families become happy adults.

Despite all our claims at being better educated and wealthier than previous generations we have lost what we once knew as a universal truth – Mother knows best.

Nature tells us that unless a sapling is cared for with water, good soil and a support to help it grow straight there will not be a strong healthy tree.

Pedigree and thoroughbred animals are never given another animal’s milk and yet few hesitate to give cow’s milk to human babies.

None will argue against Breast Is Best and the scientific evidence in favour is mountainous and yet a fully-breastfed baby more than a few weeks of age has become an endangered species in many parts of the world.

The latest science promoting the wonders of breast milk has been discovered at our own University of WA, where stem cells found in breast milk have been proven to repair damaged organs in babies.

Not only organs but mental health, like autism, is now believed to be helped by these breast milk stem cells.

I have spent decades counselling mothers who need help with the mechanics and emotions of breastfeeding, and my four children were all breastfed for four years, and my eight grandchildren were long term breastfeeders.

My children and my grandchildren seem to be happy, well adjusted people.

My husband and I have been together for 52 years and we openly love each other and our families.

Luck? Not from what I see in the world around us and the knowledge of what happens in other families that break down, bottlefeed their babies and have separated sleeping arrangements.

Talk to any woman who has breastfed and bonded with her baby boys and she will assure you that her sons would never hit a female. Likewise her daughters learn the power of good mothering at her breast and go on to mother their own children in the same way.

Governments struggle to come to terms with the loving lifestyle I am promoting because the mighty dollar and the looming ballot box control their actions.   

Billions of dollars could be saved by governments if all babies were long-term breast feeders within caring home environments.

Unfortunately such a government would not be there to see the benefits decades later.

In this modern, money-driven world probably the best a government can do to turn mental health around is to pay women the basic wage for as long as they stay home and breastfeed.

Only by giving breast milk a financial value will parents be swung in the right direction.

Expensive you say? Nothing compared to the cost blow-out Australia is facing for mental health.

If breast is best why are we letting it dry up?

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