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The milky way

Dr Shahla Meedya
School of Nursing

Supporting new mothers to prolong breastfeeding and improve infant health

Breastfeeding is natural, beneficial to mother and child, cost-effective, and good for the environment. Just 15 per cent of babies born in Australia are exclusively breastfed during the first few months of their life though, according to Australian National Infant Feeding Survey statistics. Dr Shahla Meedya is working to increase the number of women breastfeeding for extended periods of time by addressing one of the key reasons for cessation – a lack of information and support.

Back in 2015, as part of her PhD, Dr Meedya created the Milky Way Program, an educational initiative to support and encourage mothers to prolong breastfeeding. When first delivered face-to-face, the program saw cessation rates drop among participants and the number of women exclusively breastfeeding at six months increased three fold.

Dr Meedya, who has 26 years of experience in clinical settings, education and research, is now working to make the Milky Way Program available via an app as a Global Challenges project in collaboration with a multidisciplinary team with members from four different UOW faculties, the University of Oulu in Finland, and a midwifery professor from the University of Queensland.

“The app will allow geographically dispersed mothers to engage with the program, overcoming issues of locality,” Dr Meedya says.

“My goal is to expand the breastfeeding app into a global project to support women and give the best start to their children in the world,” she says.

Alongside her work on the Milky Way App, Dr Meedya is involved in a number of organisations and projects aimed at improving primary health care: she is a member of the Faculty Research Committee, South Asia Infant Feeding Research Network (SAIFRN) in Sydney; she provides expert advice on breastfeeding matters as a member of the Australian Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) advisory committee and contributed to the development of the Department of Health’s national breastfeeding strategy in 2017.

Dr Meedya has also contributed to the World Health Organisation’s most recent BFHI guidelines, which promote and support breastfeeding in facilities around the world. In June 2018, Dr Meedya also represented Australia at the WHO’s BFHI coordinator’s meeting in the Netherlands.

“Solving problems and helping others is the great motivation in my life and profession. I enjoy working toward empowering individuals to be active in their own lives and health,” she says.

“Planning and conducting research allows me to express the best parts of myself intellectually, socially and emotionally. The desire of fulfilment keeps me motivated in research. I think by bringing a new theory or new trend you can create a mark where humankind will remember you for a long time.”