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Breastmilk is the food designed by nature for human babies.

Newborn baby breastfeeding
 

Breastmilk really is a wonder. Ready to go and a meal in one, it’s the ideal start to give your baby.

Breastfeeding can protect against infection and some chronic diseases, and is linked with optimal development in early years. It can help bonding between you and your baby. It also provides many practical benefits for mothers as well as babies. And breastmilk is free and comes at no environmental cost!

Most mothers can breastfeed if they have the correct information, support and nurturing.

    What the experts say

    Here are a few reasons why experts say that breastmilk is the natural food for your baby:

    • Breastmilk has developed over millions of years to be exactly suited to your baby’s needs.
    • Breastmilk contains all the nutrients your baby needs for the first six months of life. Your baby doesn’t need any foods other than breastmilk (this is called exclusive breastfeeding). Breastmilk is easy to digest and is readily absorbed into his system. Both colostrum (the potent milk your breasts produce just after your baby is born) and mature breastmilk contain antibodies and other agents that protect your baby from infection and disease, including gastroenteritis, respiratory tract and ear infections and type-1 diabetes.
    • Breastmilk is uniquely suited to the needs of infants from birth to six months. Although formula manufacturers try to copy breastmilk as closely as they can, it can’t be duplicated. Breastmilk is a living tissue with illness-protective features, fatty acids that optimise brain development and other benefits.
    • Breastfeeding is important for infants’ eyesight, speech, jaw and mouth development. Babies who aren’t breastfed also have a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
    • Breastmilk adapts to your baby’s changing needs. It even changes during a feed – the first milk is thirst-quenching, and the later milk is rich, creamy and full of good fats. It also changes throughout lactation and as your baby has fewer feeds.
    • The taste of breastmilk changes with whatever you’ve eaten, which means that a breastfed baby is likely to accept new tastes when she starts eating solids.
    • The skin-to-skin contact during breastfeeds provides physical connection with your child and stimulates hormones to help breastfeeding. It also provides security and comfort for babies and toddlers.
    • Breastmilk is hygienic. If you’re feeding your baby with expressed breastmilk, there’s no need for sterilisation or disinfection of equipment. You need only to thoroughly wash the parts of the pumping kit once in each 24 hours. In between expressing sessions within 24 hours, the kit can be stored covered in the fridge.
    • Breastmilk is convenient. There’s no sterilising of bottles, scrubbing of teats, lugging bottles and sterile water around, mixing powder, keeping formula chilled, warming formula for feeds – have baby and breast, will travel!
    • Mothers, as well as babies, get protection from breastfeeding. Mothers who breastfeed have lower rates of osteoporosis and type-2 diabetes. Breastfeeding can also help some women get back into shape after the birth.
    • Last but not least, breastmilk is free – and unless you’re expressing, you don’t need time and equipment for cleaning and preparation.

    In the end, it’s an individual choice – but it should be an informed choice. If you decide not to breastfeed, rest assured that formulas provide adequate nutrition. And supplementing with formula doesn’t have to mean that breastfeeding stops completely.

    How long to feed?

    Health authorities recommend mothers breastfeed exclusively for six months – that is, that you feed your baby nothing but breastmilk until he’s six months old. Once you introduce solids, experts suggest it’s best for your baby if you continue breastfeeding along with those solids until your baby is at least 12 months old. After that, it’s really up to you and your baby how long you continue.

    The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until your child is two years and beyond, for as long as you and child desire.
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    • Last Updated 23-02-2011
    • Last Reviewed 26-03-2012
    • Acknowledgements

      We acknowledge the assistance of the Australian Breastfeeding Association in reviewing this article in January 2011.

    • Australian Breastfeeding Association (2009). Introduction to Breastfeeding.

      Amercian Academy of Pediatrics (2005). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics, 115 (2), 496-506.

      Australian Breastfeeding Association (2005). Why Breastfeeding Is Important. Retrieved 31 December 2010 from http://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/general.html

      D'Amico C, DiNardo C & S K (2003). Preventing contamination of breast pump kit attachments in the NICU. J Perinat Neonat Nurs 17(2): 150-157.

      National Health and Medical Research Council (2003). Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

      World Health Organization (2009). Infant and Young Child Feeding: Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals. Geneva: World Health Organization. Available at http://www.who.int/child_adolescent_health/documents/9789241597494/en/

      National Health and Medical Research Council (2003). Dietary Guidelines for Children and Adolescents in Australia. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.