One of the best things you can do for your child's wellbeing is to breastfeed. Start as soon as you can after birth.
Breastfeed exclusively for 6 months. This means giving your baby no other food or drinks other than breast milk.
When you and your baby have learned the skill of breastfeeding, it becomes easier every day.
Every day of breastfeeding makes a positive difference for your baby. You do not need to decide at the start how long you will continue breastfeeding for.
How long to breastfeed for
If you can, continue to breastfeed for up to 2 years and beyond. Include safe and appropriate complementary foods in your child's diet after 6 months. Introducing your baby to solid foods is also known as weaning.
Breast milk provides large amounts of key nutrients even after the first year of life, especially proteins, fats and vitamins.
Breastfeeding for longer
Children breastfed for longer have lower risks of chest, ear and tummy infections. This benefits children in childcare and can stop them getting ill as often. It also protects against them being overweight.
Research shows that breast milk contains more antibodies when your child is a toddler. This can help to protect them as they become more mobile.
For example, in your child's second year (12 to 23 months), 448ml or 15oz of breast milk provides:
- 29% of their energy requirements
- 43% of their protein requirements
- 36% of their calcium requirements
- 75% of their vitamin A requirements
- 76% of their folate requirements
- 94% of their vitamin B12 requirements
- 60% of their vitamin C requirements
Benefits of breastfeeding for you
Breastfeeding has huge health benefits for mothers.
Breastfeeding protects against osteoporosis.
It reduces the risk of:
- breast cancer
- ovarian cancer
- uterine cancer
- endometrial cancer
- rheumatoid arthritis
- cardiovascular disease
Breastfeeding is also useful for birth spacing (how soon after pregnancy you get pregnant again).
Benefits of extended breastfeeding
Extended breastfeeding is sometimes called 'natural term breastfeeding'.
Breastfeeding your toddler beyond infancy:
- promotes a strong attachment
- is a chance to have quality time together
- makes it easier to go out and about, or travel
- means you do not have to carry feeding equipment or worry about keeping supplies fresh and germ-free
- means less packaging to get rid of, which is better for the environment
Challenges of extended breastfeeding
There are some issues that may arise when you breastfeed your toddler.
Because your toddler is now very active (walking, running, bouncing), you may need to become accustomed to ‘gymnastic nursing'.
With the introduction of solid foods, there will be a natural decline in your milk supply. This will adjust to your toddler’s stimulation.
Often with the return of your period, you can feel increased sensitivity of your breasts and nipples during ovulation.
Some women may want to extend breastfeeding but are afraid about what will happen when they return to work. Talk to your PHN or lactation consultant for advice about breastfeeding and work.