Importance of breastfeeding
Breastfeeding gives babies the best start for a healthy life and has benefits for the health and wellbeing of mothers and babies. Breastfeeding also has economic benefits for the whole family and society.
Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended until babies are around six months of age, with the introduction of appropriate complementary feeding (foods and drinks other than breastmilk) at this age, in addition to continued breastfeeding to 12 months and beyond, for as long as mother and child desire.
All health workers have a responsibility to encourage, support and promote breastfeeding according to these recommendations. However, health workers should acknowledge that any breastfeeding has benefits for both baby and mother.
Breastfeeding is a normal physiological process. However, for some it is a skill that mothers and babies need to practice, and may need help with. Breastfeeding requires the encouragement and support of partners, families and health carers. Breastfeeding mothers returning to work also need support from their employers.
Exclusive breastfeeding is when the baby is only given breastmilk (even if this is expressed breastmilk) – additional fluids are not required. Breastmilk provides all the food and drink that a baby needs for around the first six months of life.
The recommendation to give exclusive breastmilk in the first six months is to maximise the benefits of breastfeeding for families (less illness, cost saving), and to minimise the risks associated with not breastfeeding (infections and illness). Health professionals should ensure new parents and families have received information on the benefits of breastfeeding, and should discuss the potential risks of not breastfeeding or of introducing complementary foods too early.
Benefits of breastfeeding
For the baby
Babies who are fed breastmilk have a lower risk of:
- Gastrointestinal infections (e.g. diarrhoea and vomiting)
- Atopic disease (including eczema and asthma)
- Middle ear infections
- Urinary tract infections
- Respiratory infections
- Obesity in childhood and later life
- Type 1 and 2 diabetes in childhood or later life
- Some childhood cancers
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Breastfed babies are also less likely to be hospitalised for illnesses and infections.
Growth and development
Breastmilk contains important components to protect and build the baby’s immature immune system. Breastmilk is more easily digested than infant formulas, and changes from feed to feed to suit each baby’s unique needs, making it the ideal food to promote healthy growth and development.
The close interaction and frequent skin-to-skin contact during breastfeeding can enhance bonding and emotional attachment between mother and baby.
For the mother
Research shows that breastfeeding has significant health benefits for mothers.
- Assists the uterus to return to its pre-pregnant state faster
- Can help women to lose weight after baby’s birth
- May reduce the risk of mothers with gestational diabetes developing type 2 diabetes
- Reduces the risk of ovarian cancer and pre-menopausal breast cancer
- May reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
Breastmilk has no waste products and leaves no carbon footprint.
Breastmilk does not cost money, and the decreased risk of illness results in reduced hospital admissions and healthcare costs.
- Child and Youth Health Practice Manual, Queensland Government (PDF, 3.6MB)
National guidelines and strategies
- Infant Feeding Guidelines: Summary (PDF, 825kB)
- Infant Feeding Guidelines: Information for health workers (PDF, 3.45MB)
- Australian Dietary Guidelines (Refer to section 4: Encourage, support and promote breastfeeding)
- Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy 2010-2015 (PDF, 4MB)