Breastfeeding provides babies with the best nutrition. Breastfeeding is preferred whenever possible. Breastfeed for as long as you and/or your baby choose—the longer you can, the more beneficial it will be for your baby. Human milk is not only the best, but also the most economical food for babies.
Advantages of breastfeeding
Breastfeeding can be extremely rewarding and emotionally satisfying for both you and your baby. It has definite physical and emotional health benefits for you both.
Benefits for your baby
- Mother’s milk is the most nutritious food for your baby, helping ensure their best growth and development.
- It is easily digested by the immature digestive and excretory systems.
- It contains antibodies and living cells that provide protection and immunity against many types of infection.
- It contains unique proteins and fatty acids that stimulate brain development.
- It lowers risk of allergies.
- It is constantly available at the right temperature and cannot be contaminated.
- Promotes proper jaw and teeth development.
- Long-term health benefits—lessens the risk of being overweight and developing heart disease in adulthood.
- Breastfeeding enhances bonding by the warmth and security of skin, eye and voice contact, as well as stimulating your baby’s sense of taste and smell.
Benefits for you
- Oxytocin is a hormone released when you breastfeed, causing the uterus to contract, minimising bleeding and returning the uterus to its pre-pregnant state faster.
- As the milk production process burns calories, it helps you get back to your pre-pregnant figure, providing you eat healthily.
- Promotes bonding with your baby, emotional satisfaction and a feeling of well-being.
- Decreases the risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer.
- Convenient and readily available, requires less preparation and equipment, and makes socialising and traveling easier.
- Economical – no need to buy infant formula, bottles or sterilizing equipment.
Note: You may need bottles and sterilizing equipment if you express milk for your baby.
World Health Organization’s infant feeding recommendations
The World Health Organization recommends that full-term healthy infants be fed exclusively on human milk from birth to about 6 months of age. That is, they should be given no liquids or solids other than human milk, not even water, during this period.
Babies are programmed to feed when they are hungry and stop when they are full. When they feed like this they will take enough milk to grow normally.
After this initial 6 month period of exclusive breastfeeding, it is recommended that infants continue to be breast-fed for up to 2 years of age or beyond, while receiving nutritionally adequate and safe solids. Starting solids too early or too late are both undesirable. Ideally, the decision when to begin will be made by a mother, based on her infant’s needs.
General advice about breastfeeding
For breastfeeding to be enjoyable and beneficial to both mother and baby, you should follow a healthy diet, relax and approach the experience positively and confidently.
Don’t worry if it takes some time before you really feel confident with breastfeeding.
- Gather as much information as you can and learn basic skills by attending a breastfeeding course while pregnant, reading and joining a breastfeeding support group such as the Australian Breastfeeding Association (formerly Nursing Mothers Australia).
- Use your hospital stay to learn as much as possible about breastfeeding and mothering.
- As you become more confident with your baby and your relationship grows, initial problems and difficulties are likely resolve themselves.
- Support from family, friends and professionals will help enormously.
- Ask your doctor, child health nurse, plunkett nurse or lactation consultant for advice. Try to establish a relationship with one knowledgeable person in order to avoid conflicting advice.
- Above all, follow your own instinct and do not be afraid of your baby - your baby is there for you to love and enjoy.
It is the baby itself who causes the milk to be produced. The more your baby sucks on the breast, the more milk is produced. It is preferable for your baby to start breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth, because the sucking reflex is very strong. During the first few days babies need to feed frequently—up to 8 or 10 feeds a day, if your baby wants!
At first, a yellowish liquid rich in vitamins and protein, known as colostrum, is secreted from the breasts. Over the next few days, colostrum is replaced by a more watery fluid, mature milk.
Colostrum is produced during pregnancy and the first few days after birth, and is rich in nutrients.
- Colostrum is higher in protein and some vitamins and minerals, and is lower in fat and water than mature human milk.
- Colostrum is ideally suited to the needs of a new-born.
- Colostrum helps establish important bacteria in the digestive tract, strengthens immunity and helps keep your baby healthy.
Maintaining milk production - the law of supply and demand
The continuous production of milk depends on the law of supply and demand. The more milk taken from the breast, the more milk you produce—i.e. the more the baby suckles effectively, the more milk you make. It is therefore essential that your baby feeds regularly from your breast, and for sufficient time. There is no need to time feeds.
Fore milk and hind milk
Fore milk is produced between feeds and stored in the ducts and milk sinuses. It is available for your baby, as soon as your baby starts suckling. But fore milk alone will not satisfy your baby’s hunger.
Hind milk is a calorie-rich milk necessary for your baby’s development and satisfaction. After the let-down, hind milk is released. Allow your baby to suckle for as long as your baby wants on the first breast to ensure the nutritious hind milk is taken. Your baby may be content to take the entire feed at one breast only.
Mother’s diet while breastfeeding
A balanced diet maintains the quality of your milk. It is important to eat a variety of foods and include some iron-rich foods, as well as low fat dairy products for their calcium content.
Drink plenty of water - don’t hesitate to drink 2 litres of water a day!
Some mothers are told to avoid certain foods as they can affect the flavour of the milk. If you feel that this is a problem, eliminate the particular food and see if it makes a difference. However, before cutting out a whole food group, get advice from an Accredited Practising Dietitian.
Some substances such as recreational drugs and tobacco should be avoided because their effects are transferred to your milk.
Heavy, frequent consumption of alcohol can affect your baby, so if you have an occasional drink, have it after a feed.
Only about 1% of caffeine is absorbed into human milk, but large amounts of caffeine-based beverages can cause sleeplessness and irritability in your infant. Ask your doctor before taking any medication, since they can be passed onto your baby via your milk.
Give your baby the first feed as soon as possible after birth.
Frequent unrestricted feeding, meeting the baby’s needs, will stimulate the production of milk. Go along with your baby and feed as required.
- Feed frequently whenever your baby cries or seems hungry.
- Let your baby finish the first breast before offering the second breast.
- Your baby will need to feed during the night (this also helps prevent your breasts becoming too full and uncomfortable).
- Your baby will probably want at least 6-8 feeds in 24 hours (many young babies have more than this - often 10-12 feeds).
- Giving complementary bottles ("comps") will reduce your baby´s need to suck at the breast and so reduce your supply.
Babies also suckle for comfort—this is not feeding, but is perfectly acceptable.
As your baby grows, your baby will nurse more vigorously and may reduce the suckling time.
- Using soap, alcohol or other drying agents on the nipples can cause cracked nipples.
- Rub a few drops of expressed colostrum, which has anti-infective properties, into the nipple and areola.
- Air-dry nipples and, if possible, expose them briefly to the sunlight each day. Start with a few minutes and gradually increase exposure to about ten minutes a day.
- Make sure that your nipple and as much as possible of your areola (the darker area around your nipple) is in your baby´s mouth. When your baby is positioned correctly for breastfeeding, it should not hurt you.
- When feeding, it is very important to take up a comfortable position so you won’t get tired. Your comfort and your baby’s comfort are essential to benefit fully from these moments of shared tenderness. You can breastfeed your baby in bed: lying on your side with your baby lying parallel to you, their head level with your breast. You can also feed in an armchair, in a comfortable position, putting your baby’s head in the crook of your arm, supported by one or two cushions so you don’t have to lean over.
Your baby may swallow a little air when feeding or crying. When you pick up your baby they will often burp and stop crying.
Burping helps remove air and relieves uncomfortable pressure in your baby’s stomach.
There are several different positions for winding your baby. After a little practice you will soon learn which is the most effective and what your baby prefers. Babies do not always burp after a feed. As long as your baby is happy, don’t worry.
Back to work
You can continue to breastfeed fully or partially if you want to return to work.
- Discuss your breastfeeding requirements with your employer well in advance of your return (ideally before you go on maternity leave, while still at work).
- You will require a private room (not the toilet area) with a comfortable chair, a refrigerator where you can store expressed milk, somewhere you can store an electric or manual breast pump, and time to express milk during lunch breaks and other breaks if necessary. Time could be made up at the end of the day.
- If you have an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Officer, Human Resources Group or Personnel Group, or are a member of a union, check their attitudes and knowledge of breastfeeding policies.
- You may be able to have your baby brought to you at work. Talk about this with your employer. Discuss the possibility of breastfeeding during breaks and lunchtime, and flexible work hours and breaks.
- Consider the hiring of an electric breast pump to make expressing sessions at work quicker. Pay particular attention to eating nutritiously, drink plenty of fluids and get sufficient rest. You will need a supportive environment at home and at work.
If you are unable to, or do not wish to breastfeed your child, speak with your doctor or health professional before deciding to use infant formula. Once the decision is made to discontinue breastfeeding, it is difficult to reverse that decision. The use of infant formula has financial implications for the family as more than one can (450g) of infant formula will need to be purchased each week. You may want to discuss your choice of formula with your health professional as there are many varieties and making a choice can be confusing.
Choosing the correct infant formula
All infant formula available in Australia is required to be manufactured according to regulations. Starter infant formula will provide adequate nutrition for your infant for the first 6 months. If you make the decision to use formula (and as cows milk as a drink is not recommended until after 12 months of age), you will need to continue to use it up until the infant is 12 months of age. You may want to choose a Follow on formula after your baby is 6 months of age, but be aware that Follow on formula is not suitable for infants before 6 months.
Making up infant formula
When making up infant formula, follow the instructions on the can and only use the scoop provided inside the can you are using. Some manufacturers provide a scoop leveler inside the rim of the can – this is a hygienic and safe way to make sure your scoop of infant formula powder is accurate.
Sterilising bottles is an important part of preparing infant formula. You need to make sure all traces of infant formula are removed from the bottles prior to sterilising.
When travelling with formula, take boiled water in clean bottles. Take your formula separately.
Do not use bottle warmers as these promote the growth of bad bacteria in the infant formula and may make your baby ill.
It is not recommended to warm infant formula in a microwave since it is heated unevenly and often at temperatures that are too high. Hot "spots" can occur in a bottle and may accidentally burn your child.
Feeding your baby
When feeding infant formula hold your baby close, as you would if breast-feeding. During feeding, your baby is most alert, and spending this time quietly together can help your baby settle into a routine. Some health professionals will suggest changing sides with bottle-feeding as this can help with eye development.
Some public health advisors recommend using a cup and spoon to feed babies with infant formula instead of using bottles and teats. You may seek advice from your health professional on which of these two methods is more appropriate in your case.
Never put your baby to bed with a bottle as this increases the chance of dental caries and middle ear infections. Avoid "prop feeding" or letting your baby feed itself especially when they are lying down.