SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Human breastmilk has the perfect nutrients for a baby's needs.
- Breastmilk gives your baby protection against infection.
- Breastfeeding, like any other learned skill, takes time, patience and practice.
- You can still fall pregnant even if you are breastfeeding.
- If you think you have mastitis, see your doctor.
Breastfeeding is the best way of feeding your baby. Breastmilk provides the perfect nutrition to match your baby’s needs for growth and development. Colostrum, the breastmilk produced in the first few days after birth, is very rich in the nutrients and immune components of breastmilk which help to protect your baby from infection.
Why breastfeeding is important
Breastfeeding provides the following benefits:
- Breastfeeding helps you bond with your baby.
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of many health problems for your baby, such as:
- Health benefits for you, such as reducing the risk of , and , and a quicker return of your uterus to its pre-pregnancy size.
- Breastfeeding is cheaper than formula feeding.
- Breastfeeding is very convenient.
Deciding to breastfeed
During your , it is important to discuss with your midwives and other pregnancy carers how you will feed your baby.
If you are going to breastfeed, you will be encouraged to breastfeed within one hour of the birth, if possible. Your will help you.
Early skin-to-skin contact between you and your baby following birth can help breastfeeding too.
If you choose not to breastfeed, midwives will help you to feed your baby. It is important to learn how to safely prepare and watch your babies feeding cues. Remember, even if you do not plan to breastfeed, skin-to-skin contact soon after the birth will be important for you and your baby.
Some women feel disappointed and wonder what happened if they are unable to or finish breastfeeding before they would have liked. Help is available if you need someone to talk to about your feelings.
If you formula feed it is important that you obtain a formula suitable for your baby's age. Babies less than 12 months need to be fed with infant formula. Be sure to sterilise all equipment used for preparing the formula and feeding your baby. It is essential the formula is made up and stored exactly as stated on the packaging.
Help and advice for women who formula feed is available from midwives involved in your care, your , and .
Breastfeeding tips to help you get started
Positioning and attachment for feeding come naturally to many babies and mothers, but many need time and practice to get it right.
Some tips that may help include:
- Have skin-to-skin contact with your baby.
- Feed your baby soon after birth, preferably within the first hour.
- Your milk production usually increases between 24 to 72 hours after birth. This is often called ‘your milk coming in’.
- Babies need to feed frequently, usually 8 to 12 times in 24 hours.
- Hold your baby fully facing you and close to your body.
- Touch the area between your baby’s nose and mouth with your nipple. This will encourage a wide mouth ready to take in the nipple and surrounding breast.
- Breastfeeding can be a bit uncomfortable in the beginning. If you feel pain, break the suction by gently inserting a clean finger in the corner of the baby’s mouth, and try again. Re-attaching your baby often helps.
- If your baby is having difficulty attaching to the breast, hand express your breastmilk and give it to them.
- Remember, for most women learning to breastfeed takes some time. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Young babies find it easier to feed when mothers respond to their early feeding cues, so delay changing their nappy until after a feed.
- Crying is a late hunger cue – try to respond to your baby before they become distressed.
- Avoid giving your baby dummies, teats and fluids other than breastmilk unless a health professional has advised you to use them.
How many breastfeeds your baby will need
Each child is different, but a young baby usually needs to feed 8 to 12 times in 24 hours. Your milk supply adjusts to your baby’s needs, so it helps to feed whenever your child is ready.
You will know that you’re providing enough milk if your baby:
- has 6 to 8 really wet cloth nappies or 4 to 5 heavy disposable nappies in 24 hours
- has soft bowel motions (usually at least one a day in the first 3 months)
- generally settles after most feeds
- has bright eyes and good skin tone
- is gaining weight appropriate to their age.
Some signs your baby is feeding well are:
- After some initial short frequent sucks to stimulate milk flow, your baby begins to swallow. Sucking becomes slower, deeper and more rhythmic with rest periods between each sucking burst. As the feed progresses the sucking bursts become shorter and the rest periods longer
- You can hear or see your baby swallowing.
The World Health Organization and health professionals recommend exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, with a gradual introduction of appropriate solids in the second 6 months, and ongoing breastfeeding for 2 years or beyond.
Talk to your maternal and child health nurse or other care provider if you are thinking about ceasing breastfeeding as there may be lots of options such as partial breastfeeding.
The begins once you start to supplement your baby’s diet with anything other than breastmilk, whether this is water, juice, solid foods or other milks. It is completed once your baby no longer feeds from the breast. This process may be mutual, baby-led (when your baby decides that they no longer wish to breastfeed) or mother-led (when you decide it is time to stop).
Sometimes your baby will decide that they no longer wish to breastfeed. This may be temporary, so contact a breastfeeding counsellor for advice.
If your baby is stopping breastfeeding permanently, it can lead to a mixture of feelings, including rejection, disappointment and sadness. If you need help dealing with these emotions talk with your breastfeeding counsellor or health care provider.
You may decide to stop breastfeeding for a number of reasons:
- You want to return to work – but remember you can be supported to continue to breastfeed and leave milk for your baby while you return to . Talk with your employer.
- You want to become pregnant again.
- You need to/have been advised to wean for medical reasons.
- You are ready to stop.
It is ideal, both for mother and baby, to slow the breastfeeding process gradually. As you reduce the number of breastfeeds (dropping one feed every few days), your milk supply will slowly decrease. This will reduce the risk of blocked ducts and . Weaning slowly will also give you and your baby time to adjust.
If your breasts are too full as a result of dropping a feed, it’s ok to do an extra breastfeed or try to relieve the fullness. Everyone is a bit different.
Support for breastfeeding women
Breastfeeding does not always come easily, and it is important for you, your baby and your family that you seek the support and assistance that you need. This may be to help you establish breastfeeding or to address any difficulties that you may be having.
Support for women who breastfeed can be provided by:
- your partner and family
- your maternal and child health nurse
- your doctor or midwife
- hospitals (including hospital breastfeeding day stay units)
- early parenting centres.
It can be really helpful to find out about breastfeeding and attend breastfeeding classes while you are pregnant, ideally with your partner. These may cover breastfeeding techniques, myths and feelings about breastfeeding. These classes are great for building your confidence, setting your expectations, and providing you with an opportunity to discuss any breastfeeding questions you may have before your baby is born.
Support from partners for breastfeeding mothers
Partners can do a lot to help mothers feed and care for their baby. They can provide support and encouragement to assist them through the difficult patches.
Partners can help by:
- finding out about breastfeeding
- believing in their partner’s ability to breastfeed
- taking an active role in the day-to-day care of the baby. Taking the baby for a walk, cuddling, changing nappies or bathing the baby gives partners an opportunity to get to know their baby and gives you a rest and some time for yourself.
- blocked milk ducts
- nipple damage
- poor attachment to the breast when feeding
- breasts being too full (possibly due to going too long between feeds)
- wearing a bra that is too tight
- trying to slow the milk supply too quickly.
The symptoms of mastitis include:
- a sore, hard area of the breast
- a patch of red skin on the breast
- feeling feverish and ill (hot and cold with aching joints).
If you notice these symptoms:
- It is safe to continuing to breastfeed or express as it helps the affected breast drain.
- Use warm packs or a warm shower to help with milk flow.
- Gently massage any breast lumps (for example when feeding or expressing, or in the shower).
- Use a cool pack on the breast after feeding to reduce discomfort and reduce any swelling.
- Drink water when thirsty.
- Take paracetamol or ibuprofen for pain relief.
- Rest as much as you can.
If the symptoms continue for more than a few hours, see your doctor. Mastitis is easy to treat, but can become serious if left untreated.
When making your appointment, tell the receptionist that you think you have mastitis. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics that are safe to take while breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding and fertility
For most women who breastfeed, the return to fertility is delayed which helps with spacing between pregnancies. Some women can become pregnant while breastfeeding. If it’s important for you not to fall pregnant again, seek family planning advice.
Breastfeeding and your sex life
Having a baby almost always changes your sex life, no matter how your baby is fed. Recovery from childbirth takes time and being a new mother can be exhausting.
Many breastfeeding women have an enjoyable sex life. Some women find that their interest in sex is less while they’re feeding, often because having a new baby makes them tired. Be patient and talk with your partner about how you are feeling.
Breastfeeding and your social life
Breastfed babies are very portable. You can take your breastfed baby along to many of your usual activities, or store expressed milk in the fridge or freezer for a babysitter to feed your baby.
Medicines, drugs and breastfeeding
Most medicines are safe to take while breastfeeding but please let your doctor or pharmacist know you are breastfeeding to make sure the one being prescribed for you is okay.