The birth of a baby is a time filled with excitement, joy and maybe even a little trepidation but in the midst of all this excitement, you may face a decision about whether or not to breastfeed your baby. If your personal circumstances allow it, breastfeeding will provide your little one with the best start to life nutritionally and will also bring other important benefits to mum and baby. Indeed, breastfeeding will meet all of your baby’s nutritional needs for around the first six months of life. In Australia, The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends 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. As there is so much information to wade through when a new baby joins the family, we thought we would take the time to explain a little bit about breastfeeding.
There are various benefits to a lactating mother associated with breastfeeding. It provides a convenient and inexpensive source of food and fluid for your baby that does not need any preparation or storage and which is always available. 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, seek advice about contraception to cover the first months following birth from a qualified medical practitioner). For more information on breastfeeding advice, visit the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) website and a book published recently called ‘The Newborn Baby Manual’ by Renee Kam.
Breastfeeding your little one will give them 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 to your baby include such things as improving visual, psychomotor and cognitive development. Breastmilk also contains many factors that help your little one to settle, protect him or her 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.
Breastfeeding is best for babies and provides the optimal balance of nutrition and protection during growth and development.
Good maternal nutrition is important in preparation for and during breastfeeding. If you are considering bottle feeding, always seek professional advice as introducing bottle feeding, either partially or exclusively, may adversely affect breastfeeding by reducing the amount of your own breast milk supply and may be difficult to reverse should you change your mind. Consider the financial and social implications when deciding on a feeding method for your baby.
Improper or unnecessary use of infant formula may affect the health of your baby, therefore, always prepare and use as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
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