There are very few contraindications for breastfeeding and infants do not require fluids other than breastmilk for the first six months of life. Introducing infant formula could negatively affect breastmilk supply and reversing a mother’s decreasing breastmilk supply following a decision not to breastfeed may be difficult.
The majority of mothers can successfully breastfeed. Whilst some mothers may encounter difficulties with initiating and establishing breastfeeding, these can be overcome commonly with support from lactation nurses, the Australian Breastfeeding Association, healthcare professionals, family and community organisations.
Healthcare professionals have an obligation to encourage, support and promote breastfeeding and can provide invaluable help to mothers and their families by offering factual information and empathetic support, demonstrating practical skills, and discussing strategies.
The birth of a baby is a time filled with excitement, but mothers may face a decision about whether to breastfeed their babies. Breastfeeding will provide the best start to life nutritionally and will also bring other important benefits to a mother and her baby. Indeed, breastfeeding will meet all of a baby’s nutritional needs for around the first six months of life. In Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommend that infants are breastfed exclusively for around the first six months of life to achieve optimal health, growth and development, but adds that any amount of breastmilk is beneficial to a mother and her baby. The NHMRC also says that when solid foods are introduced gradually at around six months of age, breastfeeding should continue until 12 months and beyond and for as long as the mother and baby pair desire.
Breastfeeding is associated with various benefits to a lactating mother, including that a readily accessible fluid source requiring no preparation or storage is always available to her baby. Breastmilk delivered from the breast is always at the right temperature and is safe to consume anywhere, anytime and without the need to sterilise bottles. The regular close interaction and skin-to-skin contact during breastfeeding also encourages a close mother-infant bond. Breastfeeding also helps the uterus contract back to normal size, helps to regain pre-pregnancy body weight and is also associated with a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer. If mum is breastfeeding and remains amenorrheic, this can also preserve maternal iron stores and so improve maternal iron status, as well as provide a method of natural birth control during the first months following birth (of course, mothers are to seek advice about contraception to cover the first months following birth from their qualified medical practitioner). For more information on breastfeeding, visit the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) website and a book published recently called ‘The Newborn Baby Manual’ by Renee Kam.
Breastfeeding will give an infant the best start during their first year of life, when growth is greater than at any other time across the lifespan. The benefits of breastfeeding for a baby include such things as improving visual, psychomotor and cognitive development. Breastmilk also contains many factors that help babies to settle, protect them against infection and support development of the innate immune system. Several studies have also shown that the risk or severity of a number of health conditions are reduced in breastfed babies, including gastrointestinal infections.