Breast milk is the best possible first food for a baby.
To give your little one the best start in life, breastfeeding is the natural choice. It is the ideal food for new babies, and it has some other important benefits for both you and your baby.
In Australia, it’s recommended that infants be breastfed exclusively for around the first six months of life and, if possible, breastfeeding should be continued as solid foods are introduced over the next six months.
Many new mums expect breastfeeding to be easy or to come naturally, but it’s not always the case. Sometimes it takes a little practice and perseverance, and it’s definitely OK to ask for some help or support.
There are some great resources and organisations here or talk to one of our infant nutrition experts.
Benefits of breastfeeding
Breast milk is the best possible first food for a baby. It’s nutritionally complete, containing everything babies need to help them grow and develop during the first four to six months of life. Experts now know that breastfeeding offers other health benefits too.
That’s why the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends exclusive breastfeeding during the first four to six months of life. It also recommends that breastfeeding continues during the introduction of solid foods, up to around 12 months of age or for as long as the mother and baby pair desires.
Human breast milk contains complex nutrients, like many complex prebiotics called human milk oligosaccharides and an array of probiotics, along with digestive enzymes, hormones, biologically active components and other factors. These can do things like help your little one to settle and help their immune system develop. In fact, some of the benefits of breastfeeding may be life-long, like decreasing the risk of diabetes, asthma, obesity and other conditions.
The complex nature of breast milk is underscored by the fact that its nutrient composition is constantly changing over the period of lactation, and sometimes even within a single feed! This helps to ensure that a baby gets the right nutrients at the right time.
While breastfeeding is the best choice for babies, it’s important to recognise that sometimes it’s not possible. In these cases, it’s vital that a good quality infant formula is used to supplement or, in some cases, replace breastfeeding as a source of infant nutrition.
Benefits to breastfeeding mothers
Many women find the intimacy of breastfeeding important for bonding with their baby. The regular, close interaction and skin-to-skin contact may also have a positive influence on emotional and developmental outcomes. It provides comfort and warmth while stimulating a baby’s senses of touch, sight, smell, hearing and taste.
One of the other nice things about breastfeeding is that it can help mums return to their pre-pregnancy weight more quickly. Breastfeeding naturally uses up some of the fat stores accumulated during pregnancy and it also helps the uterus contract back to a normal size.
Research shows that the gradual weight loss observed during breastfeeding is slow and safe, and that mums who breastfeed are more likely to keep the weight off.
Another benefit of breastfeeding is the delay in the return of your menstrual cycle, which helps preserve maternal iron stores and improve your iron status.
Breastfeeding is also very convenient and inexpensive! Breast milk is easy to transport, it’s always at the right temperature and it’s safe to consume anywhere, anytime and without the need to sterilise bottles.
For more information on nutrition and feeding options for babies, we’ve found these resources very useful:
1. Breastfeeding Helpline (Australian Breastfeeding Association): Call 1800 686 286 or visit the website
2. Get Up & Grow: Healthy Eating and Physical Activity for Early Childhood – The Australian Department of Health. Click here to download a copy.
3. Breastfeeding Management in Australia. 4th Edition, 2012. Brodribb W (Editor). Australian Breastfeeding Association, East Malvern, Australia.