Dietitians: Passionate advocates for maternal and childhood nutrition by Ingrid Hickman, Princess Alexandra Hospital


For all the mothers and babies in this country – Dietitians are looking out for you! Some of my time spent at the DAA National conference reasserted what I guess I always knew about Dietitians – that they are intelligent, passionate, innovative advocates for better health! I was privileged enough to chair the concurrent session on Maternal Health and Childhood Nutrition which presented research findings from the north, south, east and west of the country. 

Here’s a crunched version of what was a fascinating and engaging 2 hours of the latest research in the field

Kylee Cox and Roslyn Giglia from Western Australia presented data on the influence of knowledge and attitudes on breastfeeding practices and highlighted that mothers scoring highly on the Iowa infant feeding attitude scale were 4 times more likely to be exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months compared to mothers who had a lower appreciation for the benefits of breastmilk. While >90% of mothers supported breastfeeding in public, environmental and perceived social attitudes around them still seem to influence for how long they exclusively breastfeed their babies.

Dietitian education needs to incorporate not only the benefits of breastfeeding, but the risks of not breastfeeding – both short and long term risks.

Danielle Gallegos from Queensland reported outcomes from the MumBubConnect program and highlighted that simple text messaging services can greatly improve the number of mothers who continue exclusively breastfeeding to 6 months. This project looked into coping strategies of mothers and showed that the text message program can stimulate greater positive coping mechanisms in order to resolve breastfeeding issues.

Catherine Knight-Agawal reported on the experiences of obese pregnant women receiving antenatal care. It was confronting to hear the women’s stories that told us that judgemental attitudes from health professionals towards obese pregnant women exist and poor communication about appropriate weight changes during pregnancy results in considerable confusion for these patients. Specialist dietary intervention for obese pregnant women needs to be a priority in antenatal care.

Heather Ferguson presented sobering data from the Northern Territory where the trial of the Sprinkles Project identified unexpectedly high levels of anaemia in very young children (6-24 months old). While rates of breastfeeding were high, complementary foods were nutritionally poor. For those children who received and consumed the micronutrient supplement “Sprinkles” added to their foods, they were able to prevent development of anaemia.

Kaye Mehta from South Australia discussed children’s views of branded and unbranded food and demonstrated that children aged 10-12 showed clear brand awareness and preferences and showed sophisticated (albeit sometimes naive) views on the role of supermarkets and products.  While they were strongly influenced by “cool” brands in the playground they also had misconceptions about the health benefits of some foods. The impact of branding and advertising to children is of critical importance. 

Emily Rametta from Brisbane presented on maternal overweight and early infant feeding practices and demonstrated that maternal BMI was not related to infant feeding practices at 4 months with similar rates of exclusive breastfeeding in healthy weight and overweight/obese mothers.

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