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Major Problem for Infants in Early Childhood Ed


Major Problem for Infants in Early Childhood Education

By researchers Dr. Sarah Farquhar (Childforum Research) and Dr. Judith Galtry (Victoria University).

Major Problem for Infants in Early Childhood Education, Researchers Report

Putting your infant in childcare may not be a good idea if you want to maximize your infant’s learning outcomes, according to education and health researchers. This is because, in New Zealand, early childhood centres do not have to be breastfeeding-friendly and have teachers trained in this aspect.

A paper published in the latest NZ Research in Early Childhood Education academic journal indicates that the more than 31,000 under twos in early childhood education and their families are being poorly served by education policy that is silent on the importance of breastfeeding support and promotion.

Early childhood centres that do not support breastfeeding place infants at increased risk of diarrhoea, bacterial meningitis, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory illness and glue ear. Glue ear, if recurrent, can lead to hearing loss and poorer educational outcomes for children.

For mothers the risks are increased of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis, greater stress and reduced self-esteem, higher family medical costs, and potentially adverse effects on employment due to sickness.

The researchers, Dr Farquhar and Dr Galtry, point to the irony of the Ministry of Health struggling to improve breastfeeding rates and especially the very high drop-off rates in breastfeeding four to six months after the birth. The Minister of Education promotes the policy goal of increasing participation in quality of early childhood education but he and Ministry of Education staff have yet to consider why and how early childhood services might become breastfeeding-friendly.

Health researcher and labour market analyst Dr Judith Galtry said that providing work-place support for breastfeeding mothers was equally important but still only one-half of the solution.

“For many mothers the decision to resume employment will be influenced by, and even reliant upon, the degree of support provided for breastfeeding by their childcare service”.

“The Department of Labour is looking at ways of ensuring workplaces support breastfeeding, but the same cannot be said for the Ministry of Education with regard to early childhood centres” said Dr Galtry.

Early childhood education researcher Dr Sarah Farquhar said it is important that early childhood teachers know that breastfeeding is associated with enhanced cognitive and social-emotional development in infants, as well having the more obvious benefit of keeping children in a group situation healthier.

“Early childhood education should be about creating health and learning promoting environments and not increasing risks for adverse outcomes”.

“Early childhood teachers need information about developing breast-feeding friendly centre environments. They also need professional support to address any negative or incorrect personally-held attitudes and beliefs about breastfeeding. But unfortunately this is not currently on the education policy agenda for government funding in early childhood education”.

“Negative and wrong messages that breastfeeding parents may pick up from teachers can affect the continuation of breastfeeding. If parents can afford other options they may revisit their choice to work, or the hours that they work. They may hide the fact that they are still breastfeeding but this then makes it more difficult for teachers who do not understand the baby’s needs. Feeling unwelcome to breastfeed in the centre mothers have taken their baby in the car down the road to stop and breastfeed before returning to the centre or going home for the day” Dr Farquhar said.

Examples of possible wrong messages to parents are: that their staying in the centre to breastfed is a nuisance to teachers, that it’s wrong for other children to observe breastfeeding, that their baby is old enough to be weaned, that other parents have their children on artificial milk formula so the breastfeeding parent should do this also, that breastfeeding doesn’t enable their baby to separate sufficiently from mother and be independent, or that teachers find it too hard to manage the sleep and wake patterns of a breastfed baby.

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