In Australia, the importance of breastfeeding is highly recognised, and many mothers initiate breastfeeding after childbirth. According to the 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey, almost 96% of mothers initiate breastfeeding.
Yet, despite its clear benefits, the breastfeeding duration can be significantly less than the recommended time frames by health organisations. Only 15% of infants are exclusively breastfed for around six months.
As such, understanding and promoting the benefits of breastfeeding is critical to improve these numbers. To help shed light on this essential aspect of early childhood development, Dr Kelvin Larwood, a renowned gynaecologist on the Sunshine Coast, provides his professional insights into the myriad benefits of breastfeeding.
Drawing upon years of expertise in women’s health, Dr Larwood will guide us through the transformative journey of breastfeeding, and why it is such an invaluable practice for both mother and child.
Optimal Nutrition for Babies
Breast milk is essentially ‘nature’s perfect baby food’. According to studies by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council, breast milk’s composition varies from feeding to feeding and throughout the day, which ensures that babies get a variety of nutrients. Moreover, breastfeeding can help develop a baby’s sense of taste as the flavours of the foods mothers eat can pass into the breastmilk, preparing the baby’s palate to accept a wide range of flavours when they start eating solid foods.
Breast milk is packed with antibodies, white blood cells, and other immune factors. These components form a unique infant protection system that is present only in breast milk. The benefits of these immune factors extend beyond the breastfeeding period. According to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, children who were breastfed had a lower risk of developing certain immune system disorders such as asthma and allergies.
Promotes Healthy Weight
Breastfeeding helps to establish healthy eating patterns from the very beginning. According to a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, breastfeeding has a significant effect on the prevention of childhood obesity, one of the key public health concerns in Australia. This is because breastfeeding teaches babies self-regulation and helps them understand their hunger and fullness cues, which can later influence their relationship with food and their body.
Beneficial for Mothers
Breastfeeding benefits extend to mothers as well. In addition to physical health benefits such as reduced risk of certain types of cancers and diabetes, breastfeeding can have psychological benefits. According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, breastfeeding can lower stress levels and the risk of postpartum depression. It’s also a beautiful opportunity for mothers to bond with their babies.
There’s no denying the emotional benefits of breastfeeding. The skin-to-skin contact can improve the mother-infant bond, making babies feel more secure and loved. It also provides a time for mothers to relax and enjoy moments of closeness with their little ones.
Natural Pain Relief
Breastfeeding releases endorphins in babies, which act as a natural analgesic. When babies undergo stressful procedures like vaccinations or blood tests, breastfeeding can help ease their discomfort and soothe them.
Beneficial for the Environment
Breastfeeding is eco-friendly. It leaves virtually no carbon footprint, requires no packaging, and creates no waste.
Promotes Healthy Sleep Patterns
Breastfeeding can help your baby establish healthy sleep patterns. The components in breast milk change throughout the day. A hormone called melatonin, which regulates sleep and wake cycles, is higher in breast milk produced at night.
Breastfeeding is economical. The costs of formula, feeding supplies, and increased healthcare costs due to higher illness rates among formula-fed babies can add up.
Adapts Over Time
One of the most remarkable aspects of breast milk is that it can change in composition to meet the changing needs of the growing baby. This includes not only changes in nutrient composition but also changes in immunological composition.
In conclusion, breastfeeding is a unique journey, offering significant benefits to both the mother and child.
As one of the leading experts in gynaecology on the Sunshine Coast, Dr Kelvin Larwood supports mothers throughout their breastfeeding journey, providing expert advice and compassionate care.