Close-up of a swaddled infant's feet

The benefits of breastfeeding for mum and baby

In Eat well, Nutrition education by RebeccaLeave a Comment

Breastfeeding is the optimal choice for infant nutrition, but for some it mightn’t be clear why this is the case.

The Australian Infant Feeding Guidelines say that:

  • exclusive breastfeeding should be encouraged to around 6 months of age
  • complementary breastfeeding (that is, breastfeeding alongside the introduction of a variety of solid foods) is recommended for 6 to 12 months and beyond, for as long as both mother and child desire
  • while these are the recommendations, any breastfeeding is beneficial to both mother and child

To establish and sustain exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months the World Health Organisation and UNICEF recommend:

  • initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of life
  • breastfeeding on demand
  • no use of bottles, teats or pacifiers

Before I go on, I want to emphasise that the choices, environments, influences, challenges, behaviours and relationships of every mother and child are different. These factors, while extremely important and undoubtedly influential to a mother and child’s experience of breastfeeding, are not the focus of this post.

This article looks at some of the developmental, emotional, and economic reasons to encourage breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding benefits for baby

Breastmilk is a living substance that is naturally tailored to the needs of the infant and can change in its composition depending on the child’s needs. Incredible! Breastmilk contains the ideal balance of protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals and water for the growing baby. It also contains antibodies, growth factors, living cells, and enzymes that assist with digestion – formula doesn’t. It provides the baby with all of the nutrition and fluid they need to thrive, up until around 6 months of age when solid foods should be introduced. Breastmilk cannot be replicated.

Breast is best for baby to support:

  • optimal cognitive function
  • optimal psychomotor function
  • improved immunity, increasing the baby’s resistance to infection and disease
  • protection from allergies
  • reduced risk of some chronic diseases later in life
  • promotes a healthy weight and helps prevent childhood obesity

Breastfeeding benefits for mum

Breastfeeding is important for mums too. Breastfeeding can:

  • hasten the recovery from childbirth
  • reduce the risk of post-partum haemorrhage
  • reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer
  • reduce the risk of some chronic diseases later in life

Breastfeeding is (mostly) convenient, free, and always there when you need it. It’s also always fresh, clean and safe for your baby.

Supporting mums and their choices

When researching the challenges of breastfeeding, I found this quote to be particularly powerful:

Breastfeeding is natural, but in today’s world it is often not easy. Mothers don’t fail at breastfeeding, but society often fails mothers.
Australian Breastfeeding Association

A range of factors can come into play that make breastfeeding challenging, such as a lack of support or information regarding breastfeeding, concerns about breastfeeding in public, the marketing of infant formulas, and returning to work. Society benefits when mums breastfeed, and changes need to occur in our society to better support mums and babies.

For mums who cannot or choose not to exclusively breastfeed, using their own expressed milk, donor milk from another mother, or infant formula will provide your baby with the nutrition they require. Most importantly, mums (and dads, and carers) should be completely supported and respected with regards to decision-making about the feeding of their child.

Further reading

Image credit: Amanda Jordan