‘Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants’ .
Whilst we support a mothers’ decision to either bottle feed or breastfeed, for the purpose of this week, I will be discussing breastfeeding and its benefits.
For how long is breast feeding recommended?
Breastfeeding alone is encouraged until a baby reaches six months of age. Ideally, breastfeeding will continue until 12 months of age (and onwards, if desired by the mother), accompanied with the introduction of solids.
For numerous reasons, some mothers cannot breastfeed for this long in which case any amount of time spent breastfeeding is beneficial.
Why breastfeeding is beneficial
Support and protection
Breast milk is uniquely designed for babies providing optimal support for the growth, development and protection of immature systems.
As an example, infants are born with an immature immune system yet lactation provides significant immunoprotection to the breast fed infant – this is in the form of the antibodies; immunoglobulin A, G, M and also other protective factors . Colostrum is the breast milk produced for 30-40 hours after birth. This has the highest concentration of immunoglobulins. These factors help the newborn baby deal with and fight off pathogenic bacteria! Unfortunately, these protective agents cannot be recreated in formula milk.
Most of the nutrients that are found in breast milk have a high bioavailability, meaning they are readily absorbed by the infant. For this reason, it provides an infant with all of the nutrition they need. This then protects against infection, the development of allergies (asthma and food allergies) and some chronic diseases .
Unfortunately it is difficult for formula milk to precisely mimic the unique properties and functions of breast milk.
Breast feeding also has positive psychological and cognitive effects. A recent meta-analysis showed that infants who were breastfed for one month or longer scored higher in intelligence tests (later in life) than those who were breastfed for less than one month . This portrays the benefits of breastfeeding on cognitive development. The benefits appear to be heightened when duration of breastfeeding is extended past one month .
One such study examined 973 mixed sex adults using a clinical intelligence test. A further 2280 male individuals were tested with a military intelligence test. The duration of breastfeeding was linked with significantly higher scores in the clinical intelligence test – both verbal and performance. The study showed that breastfeeding up until 9 months of age had the biggest impact on adult intelligence. The nutrients in breast milk may therefore have a significant effect on intellectual and cognitive development .
The skin to skin contact and nurturing of the process also helps to form a strong bond between baby and mum.
Breastfeeding is also associated with lower rates of future obesity for children [1,2]. It has also been associated with a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes .
For the mother
Breastfeeding has been shown to decrease the risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer in mothers [1, 2]. It is also a very economic way of providing unsurpassed nutrition to a baby.
Exclusively breast feeding for six months also acts as a form of contraception during that time (it provides 98% protection though cannot be labelled as fail safe ). This occurs due to lactation amenorrhoea.
Breast feeding requires a lot of energy. This therefore speeds up the loss of any excess weight that was gained during pregnancy. It is important to try and return to your pre-pregnancy weight. Many women accept the weight they have gained which can be harmful to their health if they have moved in to the overweight or obese weight range.
Composition of breast milk, cow’s milk and formula milk
The table below compares the composition of breast milk, cows’ milk and formula milk. As you can see, breast milk is generally lower in protein and higher in fat to cater for the baby’s needs. The higher fat content assists in meeting the infant’s energy requirements. The slower the flow rate of milk, the higher the fat content (and whiteness).
Breast milk also has a high water content which is why babies don’t require any other fluids for the first 6 months of life . Very interesting to take a look at the differences!
The above table was sourced from the Eat For Health Infant Feeding Guidelines 
Can I drink alcohol whilst breastfeeding?
If you want to have a drink at a social occasion, you will need to plan ahead. Alcohol moves freely back and forth from blood to breast milk . This means that the alcohol concentration of your blood can be the alcohol concentration of your milk!
The National Health and Medical Research Council recommend complete avoidance of alcohol whilst breastfeeding . This is in order to eliminate any alcohol associated health risks to the baby. Alcohol consumption should at least be avoided until one month post birth, once breast feeding has been well established.
For those who choose to drink, no more than 2 standard drinks on any one occasion are recommended. Expressing milk prior to drinking should be considered. Alcohol can remain in breast milk for longer than you might think. As a general rule, it will take 2 hours for the alcohol to leave your breast milk after one standard drink and 4 hours for it to leave after two standard drinks. This will vary slightly depending factors such as height, weight and how much you have eaten. Therefore, alcohol consumption should be timed with breastfeeding.
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
If you have questions about breast feeding or other nutrition related issues, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns.
Contact us today.