By Raising Children Network
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Newborn baby breastfeeding
Breastmilk is the food designed by nature for human babies. This means it’s the ideal start for your baby.

Breastmilk and breastfeeding benefits

Breastmilk really is a wonder – a complete meal, ready whenever and wherever you and your baby are.

Breastmilk can protect your baby against infection and some chronic diseases. It’s a way to help your baby develop as well as possible. Breastfeeding can help bonding between you and your baby.

Most mothers can breastfeed if they have the right information, support and care.

Breastmilk for babies: what the experts say

Here are some 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. Although formula manufacturers try to copy breastmilk as closely as they can, formula won’t ever be exactly the same as breastmilk.
  • 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 in these early months. This is called exclusive breastfeeding.
  • Breastmilk is easy to digest and is readily absorbed into your baby’s system.
  • Both colostrum 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 a living fluid with fatty acids that are best for baby brain development.
  • Breastfeeding is important for babies’ eyesight, speech, jaw and mouth development.
  • Babies who are breastfed have a lower risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI), a term which includes sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and fatal sleeping accidents.
  • Breastmilk adapts to your baby’s changing needs as he gets older and has fewer feeds. It even changes during a feed – the first milk is thirst-quenching, and the later milk is rich, creamy and full of good fats.
  • 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 gives you a physical connection with your baby and stimulates hormones that help with breastfeeding. It also provides security and comfort for babies and toddlers.

Breastfeeding: why it’s good for mothers

  • Breastfeeding is convenient. You don’t have to sterilise bottles, scrub teats, lug around bottles and sterile water, mix powder, keep formula chilled or warm formula for feeds. Have baby and breast, will travel!
  • Even if you’re feeding your baby with expressed breastmilk, you still don’t need to sterilise or disinfect equipment. All you do is thoroughly wash the parts of the pumping kit once every 24 hours. In between expressing sessions, store the kit covered in the fridge.
  • Mothers who breastfeed have lower rates of breast cancer, osteoporosis and type-2 diabetes. Breastfeeding can help some women lose weight after the birth.
  • Breastfeeding mothers get back to sleep more easily than formula-feeding mothers, and their sleep cycles are more in tune with their babies’ cycles.
  • 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 give your baby adequate nutrition. And if you need to supplement breastmilk with formula, it doesn’t mean that breastfeeding has to stop completely.

How long to feed your baby breastmilk

It's recommended that you breastfeed exclusively until your baby starts eating solid foods, which usually happens around six months. It’s around this time that babies start to need extra food for growth and development.

Once you introduce solids, experts suggest it’s best for your baby if you keep breastfeeding along with giving your baby solids until your baby is at least 12 months old.

After that, it’s really up to you and your baby how long you keep going.

  • Last updated or reviewed 11-06-2014
  • Acknowledgements We acknowledge the assistance of the Australian Breastfeeding Association in reviewing this article.