Breastfeeding is the most exclusive form of infant feeding due to its high nutritional content, and will give your baby the best start to life.
Statistics from 2001 show that 54% of Australian infants aged 3 months or less are exclusively breastfed, in addition to 87% of infants aged 0-3year of age having being breastfed at some stage. We as doctors would like to see these numbers increase, and ultimately every mother should be encouraged to breastfeed.
The current guidelines recommend exclusive breastfeeding of infants until 6 months of age, followed by slowly introducing a solid diet in combination with breastmilk until at least 12 months of age.
What are the benefits of breastfeeding?
- Nutritional content for your baby – Breastmilk is the most natural food source for babies. The milk provides not only the essential vitamins and nutrients needed for growth, but also provides protection for your baby against illnesses. This is because the milk contains special components that are passed on from your body that assists the baby’s immune system in fighting against infection. Breastfeeding has also shown to reduce the risk of your child developing juvenile diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and coeliac disease later in life.
- Postpartum weight loss – Breastfeeding also facilitates weight loss, or in other words helps you lose the ‘pregnancy bulge’ during the postpartum period. The average weight one can lose whilst eating a well balanced diet whilst exclusively breastfeeding is approximately 0.5kg per week. However you must not start a strict calorie-restricted diet or consume a fluid diet in order to help lose the weight as this will only interfere with breastmilk production, providing you and the baby will a lot less energy, and potentially lead to disasters.
- Contraception – Breastfeeding alters hormonal levels within your body which makes it more difficult to fall pregnant again whilst breastfeeding
- Mother-baby bond – Feeding time can be special for both mother and baby, and help build a close relationship bond between the two.
When do I start breastfeeding and should I change my diet?
You can commence breastfeeding as soon as your baby has been delivered, however you will notice that milk takes a few days to become ‘real breastmilk.’ For the first 3-5 days the milk is referred to as ‘colostrum’ and is a thick straw-coloured fluid that is rich in vitamins and minerals. The milk then gradually changes in composition and becomes thinner and whiter in colour. The milk also loses some of its proteins and vitamins, however becomes higher in fat and lactose content which is considered ideal for the growing baby. Fat will eventually make up 35-50% of the energy value of milk.
Whilst breastfeeding it is important to follow dietary recommendations as your daily calorie intake and certain nutrient requirements are increased. The guidelines recommend that each day an additional 500 kilocalories, or approximately 100 calories, is required for the first six months, which then reduces to 460 kcal per day for the remainder of breastfeeding. Other nutrients are also required which are listed below:
The most important part of your diet for forming quality breastmilk are fatty acids. This is because the fats in the milk are what provides your growing baby with the greatest amount of energy, and the amount the baby obtains will depend on the types of fats you are consuming. Good fats in breastmilk are the polyunsaturated fatty acid type which help the baby with brain development, improving vision, growth and motor development. To fulfill the requirements of these fatty acids it is recommended breastfeeding mums eat fish twice a week, or alternately take a tablet substitute. This is available at the pharmacy and is called docosahexaenoic acid supplement.
Breastfeeding is the preferred food source for your infant. If you however are seeking the alternative, then please read the page Formula Feeding for further information.