We've all heard that “breast is best”. But why, exactly, is breastfeeding so much better than formula feeding?

Breastfeeding continues to be encouraged around the globe, and rightfully so. Medical experts and health authorities agree that the benefits are simply too great to ignore. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) says breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival.

Immediate breastfeeding – putting the baby to the mother’s breast within an hour after birth – significantly reduces neonatal death, according to the United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF). Neonatal death refers to the death of a baby within the first 28 days of its life, usually from infection.

It’s simple: breastfeeding helps protect children against disease, while allowing them to thrive and develop to their full potential. Yet, less than half of the world’s newborns benefit from early breastfeeding and even fewer are exclusively breastfed for the first six months, UNICEF says.

And, yes, this is a problem in Australia too. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare notes that, although most babies (96%) in Australia were initially breastfed in 2010, only 39% of infants were exclusively breastfed to around 4 months, and 15% to around 6 months.

Keep abreast of the facts
It’s incredibly important for new mums and dads to familiarise themselves with the benefits of breastfeeding and for new mothers to persist for at least 4 - 6 months. Formula milk should really just be an option if you cannot breastfeed (though, with the correct help and support, most mums are able to breastfeed).

A few important facts:

    •  Breast milk is the ideal food for newborns and babies.

    •  It gives babies all the nutrients they need for healthy development.

    •  It contains antibodies that protect babies from diarrhoea and pneumonia.

    •  It benefits mothers by reducing risks of breast and ovarian cancer.

    •  It helps mums regain pre-pregnancy weight faster, and lowers rates of obesity.

    •  Breastfed babies are less likely to be overweight or obese in adulthood.

    •  As toddlers and young adults, breastfed babies tend to perform better in intelligence tests.

    •  Thanks to ARVs, even HIV-positive mums can breastfeed safely.

    •  You can express and store your milk for when you’re too busy to breastfeed directly.

Breastfeeding should be on demand, as often as the child wants, day and night. With this in mind, the World Health Organization advises mums to not be embarrassed about breastfeeding in public, should the need arise.

Adequate breastfeeding counselling and support are essential for mothers and families to initiate and maintain breastfeeding. Speak to your doctor, midwife or clinic nurse if you’re experiencing problems.


- UNICEF (Breastfeeding and Child Mortality)
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (Australia’s Health 2012)
- The World Health Organisation (Breastfeeding Facts),

Image via Thinkstock


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