Benefits of breastfeeding
Breastfeeding provides mothers and babies with many health benefits. It’s been shown to reduce the rates of many illnesses in breastfed babies including respiratory illnesses, diabetes and even leukaemia. The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a baby’s life. However, the latest Australian National Infant Feeding Survey from 2010, shows that while 90% of mothers started exclusive breastfeeding, only 15.4% of babies were still being exclusively breastfed at 5 months of age.
Benefits for your baby
Breastfeeding is the most natural way to feed your baby. It provides all the nutrition your baby needs during the first six months of life. This means your baby doesn’t need any water or foods other than breastmilk in these early months.
Other benefits of breast milk include:
- helping your baby fight off viruses and bacteria
- helping your baby’s digestive tract to develop
- being easy for your baby to digest
The act of breastfeeding also helps your baby’s jaw to develop and increases the feeling of connection and bonding with your baby. The nutritional profile of breastmilk also changes over time to meet the needs of your growing baby.
According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, if a child isn’t breastfed, or is only breastfed for a short amount of time, it can increase the risk of the following conditions:
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- gastrointestinal infections
- respiratory infections
- ear infections
Benefits for the mother
There are many benefits of breastfeeding for mothers. These can include:
- reducing the risk of bleeding after birth
- reducing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer
- soothing for your baby
- allowing for bonding time with your baby
- prolonging the amount of time before you get your period again
- reducing the risk of depression
Breastfeeding is also a much cheaper alternative than buying infant formulas.
Where to get help with breastfeeding
Breastfeeding can be a challenge for many women due to a range of reasons. When this happens, it can be a particularly difficult time, but there are many support services available to help you.
The Raising Children Network has useful online resources to help you start breastfeeding:
Some mother’s experience specific problems with breastfeeding including low milk supply, the baby refusing to feed, or experiencing breast infections or blocked milk ducts.
The Raising Children Network has some helpful resources on what to do if you experience one of these situations:
- baby refusing to feed or baby biting the breast
- blocked milk ducts, mastitis and breast abscess
- sore nipples and nipple infections
- low milk supply
If you’re having difficulty breastfeeding, you can call one of the following services:
- Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268 – the service provides information and support and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
- Pregnancy, Birth and Baby helpline on 1800 882 436 – you can speak with a maternal child health nurse and the service is available 7am to midnight, 7 days a week
- Parent helplines in your state or territory
If you’re having difficulty breastfeeding, it’s normal to feel a sense of loss. Grief and sadness are normal responses to not being able to breastfeed or not being able to breastfeed for as long as you would like. There are support services available such as the Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) Helpline and support website. The PANDA Helpline is available Monday to Friday 9am to 7:30pm on 1300 726 306.
You can also get help from a range of health professionals including midwives, child and family health nurses, doctors, and lactation consultants.
Alternatives to breastfeeding
Babies under 12 months require breastmilk or formula to grow and develop. If you’re not breastfeeding your baby for whatever reason, you can:
- express breastmilk
- use donor milk
- use infant formula
- use a combination of any or all of the above.
Using infant formula
Infant formula is an option if you’re unable to breastfeed. It’s usually made from cow’s milk, rather than human milk. There are other options available such as soy-based formulas, however if you are thinking about feeding your baby with a formula that isn’t based on cow’s milk, you should speak with your doctor, paediatrician, or child and family health nurse first. Home made baby formulas are not suitable alternatives to breast milk or shop-bought cow’s milk based baby formulas. Find out more about using infant formula and bottle-feeding at the Raising Children Network.
- Breastfeeding in public – your legal rights at the Australian Breastfeeding Association
- Breastfeeding and childcare at the Australian Breastfeeding Association
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified health care professional.
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