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Breastfeeding—a decision aid

Preparing for the birth of your baby includes giving consideration as to how you intend to feed your baby. In order to make an informed decision, it is important for you, and your partner, to gain some knowledge of breastfeeding from a wide selection of sources such as books, the Internet, midwives, doctors and friends etc. Your midwife or doctor can assist with your decision by discussing with you, and/or your partner, the variety of factors associated with breastfeeding and your individual needs. Community groups such as the Australian Breastfeeding Association also offer information and support to breastfeeding women.

Options for feeding

Breastfeeding is recommended by the World Health Organisation and supported at Mater. Breast milk will meet your baby’s entire nutritional needs for the first six months of age; no other foods or fluids are required. Solid foods should be gradually introduced from approximately six months of age; however, this is more experimental than nutritional, so breast milk remains the preferred food source for infants up to 12 months of age. Ideally, breastfeeding should be continued into the second year of life.

If you are unable to breastfeed your baby due to medical reasons or for other reasons standard commercial infant formula should be used until the baby is 12 months old. Home prepared formulas, cow’s milk; powdered, condensed or other types of milk are not suitable and may cause your baby to become ill.

Benefits of breastfeeding 

Breastfeeding offers numerous advantages for both you and your baby.

For your baby

  • Breast milk is a complete food for your baby’s growth, providing a valuable source of nutrition and immune protection
  • Breast milk is easy to digest 
  • Breastfeeding reduces the risk, or severity, of the following;
    • physiological reflux
    • pyloric stenosis
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • some childhood cancers
  • childhood obesity
  • coeliac disease  (delays onset)
  • gastrointestinal tract disease
  • respiratory disease
  • type I diabetes (insulin dependent)
  • middle ear infections
  • urinary tract infections
  • bacteraemia—meningitis
  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS—also known as cot death)
  • necrotising enterocolitis (in premature infants).
  • Breastfeeding promotes optimal jaw and tooth development through sucking and the style of sucking.
  • Breastfeeding encourages the infant to satisfy their appetite, without overeating.
  • Breastfeeding creates a special closeness between mother and baby.

For you

Breastfeeding has been shown to provide some protection against:

  • premenopausal breast cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • osteoporosis
  • type 2 diabetes
  • postnatal depression.

 Breastfeeding also:

  • is the least expensive way to feed your baby
  • is the easiest way to feed your baby
  • facilitates the return to your pre-pregnancy body weight and body shape, when feeding for longer than seven months.

When is infant formula necessary?

There are a few instances when infant formula is necessary:

  • When a mother is HIV positive.
  • In rare cases where the infant has a metabolic disorder, such as galactosaemia or phenylketonuria (also known as PKU or maple syrup urine disease). Partially breastfeeding a baby with PKU may be possible with careful monitoring from your health professional
  • In some cases of maternal illness
  • When a mother makes an informed decision not to breastfeed.

The decision to use an infant formula should always be discussed with a health professional who can advise you on how to safely make and use formula (usually one bottle at time, as required).

What to expect in the first few hours after birth and during your hospital stayiStock-152128009-(1).jpg

Mater supports early skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeds. Immediately after birth, your baby will be placed on your chest, between your breasts, and covered with a warm blanket. This contact will help you both initiate breastfeeding and should be maintained until after the first breastfeed.

It is common practice, in most maternity hospitals, to practice rooming-in where your baby will stay in the same room with you 24 hours a day. This makes it easier for you to get to know your baby and also establish breastfeeding.

Complementary feeds

While every effort will be made to help you to breastfeed, there are some rare circumstances where it may be recommended that your baby be given a complementary feed. Complementary feeds are any fluid, other than breast milk, given to your baby such as water, glucose water or infant formula.

When are complementary feeds necessary?

Complementary feeds may be necessary in cases of illness of mother or baby. The hospital staff will only give your baby a complementary feed after seeking your permission.

The effects of complementary feeds

  • Breastfeeding works on a demand/supply basis. The more milk your baby takes, the more milk your breasts make. When your baby is given a complementary or supplementary feed your breasts have less stimulation. This in turn will mean your baby will take less from the breast. This may require you to then express your breasts to ensure the milk supply is maintained.
  • It is important that your breasts are suckled frequently. If feeds are missed or replaced by a complementary feed, your breasts will become full and painful. This is known as engorgement and your body will stop making milk if your breasts are too full.

Giving complementary or supplementary feeds may ultimately make it difficult for you to continue breastfeeding. However, you should be assured that the midwives will undertake to make every effort to help you to re-establish breastfeeding once the reason for requiring the complementary feed has been overcome, if you wish to do so.

At Mater Mothers' Hospitals there are lactation consultants available to assist and support you, both as an inpatient and outpatient.

The potential for these problems may be reduced by:

  • expressing regularly to maintain supply and prevent engorgement
  • using expressed breast milk, where available, to minimise the potential for cow or soy milk protein allergy.

What if I want to return to work?

Many women continue to successfully breastfeed after returning to work. Your health professional will be available to discuss with you, and your partner, the best options for your individual situation. There is additional support available from Mater’s lactation consultants at the Breastfeeding Support Service.

Partial breastfeeding is one option to be considered. Breastfeed when you are at home and express afterwards, so that a carer can feed baby your breast milk during the day, or infant formula can be given for one or two feeds a day. If expressing breast milk while at work remember to label it carefully.

Further information

  • Mater Mothers' Parenting support Centre (appointments required for antenatal or postnatal outpatient consultations)
  • Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA): 1800 686 2 686 or www.breastfeeding.asn.au
  • For information about breastfeeding, please visit http://brochures.mater.org.au, select "Mater Mothers' Hospital" then "Breastfeeding and your new baby."
  • For information about formula feeding, please visit http://brochures.mater.org.au, select "Mater Mothers' Hospitals" then "Formula feeding"

References

National Medical Health and Research Council. Infant feeding guidelines for health workers. Appendix three:sample of a suitable draft for an information booklet for parents. NHMRC, 1996 (Rescinded).

Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Mater Doc Num: PI-CLN-430094
Last modified 22/6/2017.
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