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Breastfeeding is best for your baby and is recommended by health professionals and maternity services. Breast milk contains all the nutrients your baby needs and is easily digested. It is economical, safe and always the right temperature.
Breast milk protects your baby against some infections and can reduce the risk of developing allergies. Breastfeeding saves time compared with cleaning, sterilising and making bottles of formula. It can reduce the risk of you getting breast cancer and may help you get back to your pre-pregnancy weight. Actively breastfeeding can also suppress ovulation in many women and may therefore delay a return to fertility. It can also encourage bonding between you and your baby because of the close contact it involves.
Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months of your baby’s life. Breastfeeding can continue alongside other appropriate foods for two years or more.
Breastfeeding is easy for some women but can be tricky to begin with. Start each feed on the opposite breast to the one used at the beginning of the last feed. The baby should not suck on the nipple alone, but take in part or all of the areola (the area around the nipple) as well. If the nipple alone is suckled this may damage it, and make feeding less effective. To release the baby’s latch you can gently slide your little finger (clean) into the corner of the baby’s mouth.
If you want to wean your baby off breastfeeding, this is best done gradually. Drop one feed in one day, then after a while, drop another feed. If your breasts become engorged, expressing a little milk will make them more comfortable.
Overcoming problems with breastfeeding
Reflux is a common problem in young babies. This is when milk and stomach acid come back up out of the stomach. Babies usually grow out of this at around four months old. See your health professional if you are concerned, or if your baby has any of the following symptoms:
- bringing up large amounts of milk after most feeds
- seems to be in pain after breast feeds
- is fussy and unhappy between feeds
- arches their back after most feeds
- has problems gaining weight
- has ongoing breathing problems.
Sometimes breasts can become engorged, causing pain and difficulty in ‘latching’ the baby on to the breast. Try expressing a little milk first if this is a problem. Other methods to relieve engorged breasts include:
- taking your bra off completely before beginning to breastfeed
- gently massaging the breast or using warmth for up to a few minutes before feeding, which may help trigger your let-down reflex
- feed your baby frequently
- massage the breast gently while you are feeding
- express for comfort after feeding, if necessary
- use cold packs or chilled, washed cabbage leaves after a feed to reduce inflammation
- ask your doctor or hospital staff about taking anti-inflammatory medication or pain relief if needed.
Mastitis (inflamed, blocked milk ducts) may follow engorgement. Symptoms usually include breast pain, fever and flu-like symptoms. It is important that you don’t stop breastfeeding during this time or at least express your milk if it is too painful to do so. Very rarely does this lead to an infection in which case your doctor may need to prescribe a course of antibiotics. Applying warmth to the affected area and using a different feeding position in combination with an anti-inflammatory (if appropriate) will help.
For cracked nipples, apply a soothing cream, but most importantly, get help with your feeding technique; the baby is probably latching on incorrectly.
Low milk supply
Sometimes mothers notice their milk supply may seem lower if their baby has been very hungry for a couple of days. If the baby is gaining weight and having six or more very wet nappies per day, then the milk supply is fine.
As your baby gets older and bigger, he or she needs more milk and your supply naturally increases if the baby feeds more. Allow the baby to feed often and completely empty one breast before swapping to the other. Within a couple of days the milk production will increase. There is no need to supplement with formula milk.
See Your Pharmacist or Medical Professional
- if you have symptoms of mastitis, such as breast pain, redness, swelling, fever or flu-like symptoms
- if your baby is not gaining weight
- if your baby is unwell
- if you are planning to take or buy any medicine, supplement or herbal remedy; these can be passed into your breast milk
- drink plenty of fluids, eat well and rest if possible
- do not smoke or expose yourself or your baby to second-hand smoke
- alcohol can pass into your breast milk, so avoid alcohol or have only a small amount immediately after feeding your baby, so as much as possible can clear from your breast milk before the next feed
Cracked nipple treatments
- attachment of the baby may be a problem; refer to a lactation consultant
e.g. lanolin-based ointments or creams (Ameda Triple Zero Lanolin Cream, Lansinoh for Breastfeeding Mothers, Marcalan, Medela PureLan) and plant-based ointments or creams (Gaia Pure Pregnancy Nipple Balm)
- apply after every feed and as needed
- does not need to be removed before breastfeeding
- remove excess with a soft cloth or tissue
e.g. compresses (Multi-Mam, Rite Aid Hydrogel Breast Discs, Lansinoh Therapearl 3 in 1 Breast Therapy)
e.g. nipple shields (e.g. Avent, Medela)
- nipple shields protect the breast but he baby may not get as much milk and may become confused by the different feel of the nipple shield, and struggle to change back to the breast. It is usually advisable to use them for short periods of time only after seeing a lactation consultant
- keep your breasts dry with good quality breast pads, changed after each feed
e.g. Milton sterilising tablets and solution, NUK microwave and electric sterilising equipment, Avent microwave and electric sterilising equipment, Tommee Tippee Closer to Nature Microwave Steam Steriliser, Cherub Baby Natriblend Steamer Blender Warmer and Bottle Steriliser, Dr Browns Microwave Sterilizer
- if you are expressing, bottle feeding or feeding water to your baby, or using a nipple shield or pacifier, clean (using detergent, hot water and brush) and sterilise equipment first
Products for expressing milk
e.g. NUK pump (electric, manual), Avent pump (electric, manual), Medela pump (electric, battery, manual), Ameda (electric, manual), Tommee Tippee (manual, electric)
- expressing can be done by hand or with an electric or manual pump; the milk can be refrigerated or frozen
e.g. Karicare range, NAN range, Novalac range, S-26 range
- breastfeeding is best for babies
- if feeding infant formula to your baby, always use good quality bottles and teats. Teats should be the right size for your baby’s age: slow flow for young babies through to faster flow for older babies
- cow’s milk must not be used for infants under 12 months old
- there are many different types of infant formula available. Discuss your options with a health care professional
- keep powdered formula covered and in a clean, dry place. Check the use-by date and use within four weeks of opening
- wash hands and clean all feeding equipment before preparing formula. All equipment will need to be sterilised as well if the baby is less than 3 months old
- make up formula with cold, previously boiled, water. Some countries advocate the use of nonfluoridated water when making up formula. Use the scoop provided with the formula and follow the directions on the packaging exactly
- if possible, infant formula should be made up just before a feed. Throw out any formula that has been out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours
- prepared formula can be stored for later use in the back of the refrigerator. It should be stored for no longer than 4 hours
- soy milk is not recommended, unless the doctor has advised to use it due to lactose intolerance. Signs of this include skin problems, vomiting, diarrhoea and colic. There are also formulations designed for babies with constipation, diarrhoea or reflux. See your health professional for advice
- warm prepared formula by placing the bottle in a container of hot water. Be careful if using a microwave since these can re-heat unevenly. Shake the bottle after heating and leave to stand for a couple of minutes before shaking again
- do not reheat any prepared formula that has already been warmed or partially consumed
Availability of medicines
- GENERAL SALE available through pharmacies and possibly other retail outlets.
- PHARMACY ONLY available for sale through pharmacies only.
- PHARMACIST ONLY may only be sold by a pharmacist.
- PRESCRIPTION ONLY available only with a prescription from your doctor or other health professional.
Last Reviewed: 04/11/2019
1. Australian Breastfeeding Association (2015, April). Reflux. Australian Breastfeeding Association: https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bf-info/common-concerns%E2%80%93baby/reflux
2. Australian Breastfeeding Association (2016, November). Engorgement. Australian Breastfeeding Association: https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bf-info/common-concerns%E2%80%93mum/engorgement
Breast feeding your baby
Breast milk has long been known as the ideal food for babies and infants. Major health organisations recommend that women breast feed their babies exclusively until they are 6 months old, and continue breast feeding, along with solids, until they are 12 months old or more. Breast milk has many benefits.
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