It’s often said that nature works in mysterious ways and sometimes it’s really not that mysterious at all.
Hi, I’m Dr Joe.
Mammals, and remember that human beings are mammals, tend to feed their young on milk that’s produced by the mother and when we think about it that’s nature acting in a not-so-mysterious way. Mammals, including humans, will have carried babies for a period of time within the womb, so the mother is providing all the nourishment and nutrients for that embryo and foetus as it’s developing. And the next logical step is for the mother to continue to provide nourishment for a baby, and that obviously is breastfeeding.
In years gone by there really wasn’t too much choice. We didn’t have formula, there really wasn’t any option and whilst people say “yeah, historically there were wet nurses and the like,” however they were still women who were doing breastfeeding even if they weren’t the actual mother.
Lots of research has gone into breastfeeding and its benefits over the last 20 or 30 years and there is no doubt that in an ideal world it is the best thing for any newborn baby to be fed on the breast.
Length of time this should happen for people will argue about but certainly 6 months there’s general agreement with. Some women like to go a little longer than that but any length of time is better than zero. This is not to say that all women can successfully breastfeed and we’ll touch a little bit on that later.
So why is it good to breastfeed?
In some respects the answer is obvious it’s just breast milk is produced in the mother’s body, it’s got all the nutrients that a baby needs, it’s got antibodies which help a baby ward off viruses and infections, it’s got other minerals and other nutrients – it just makes a lot of sense.
At another level, it’s also part of the bonding process so that’s good for mother and also baby.
There are a number of studies that have shown babies who are breastfed are a little bit less likely to suffer allergy-type problems, babies who are breastfed are less likely to get as many infections. These things are not force-fields – it doesn’t mean that it can’t happen but they are less likely. Also seems there are less gastrointestinal problems in babies that have been breastfed.
We do live in a modern age, though, so one of the issues that comes up for women, particularly if they’re working is “how do you get around some of these issues?”
Expressing milk is something that has become quite popular and common. Anyone can buy machines to do that and breastmilk can be frozen, put in the freezer and brought out either for hubby or your partner to feed the baby, or even for a babysitter to do it. So again breastmilk can be given through a bottle, that’s fine.
Some people experience problems when breastfeeding and there are lactation consultants, you can certainly have a chat with your doctor and a lot of the problems can be overcome.
One of the biggest issues is just that of confidence. Women can get quite scared about “Is it going to be ok? Will it work?” The thing is that it’s been going for thousands, probably tens of thousands of years. So it’s not something that – it’s not rocket science – you don’t need to think too much about it, in fact, the more you try to think about it sometimes the harder it actually becomes. So breastfeeding is a little bit like getting out of bed in the morning: you don’t need to think a lot about it, it’s just about doing it.
A couple of simple tips:

  • Try and be relaxed
  • Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water because keep in mind after every breastfeed you’re losing some liquids – so a simple tip is just to keep a bottle of water with you and after every breastfeed have 1 and maybe 2 of those to keep up your fluids.
  • Some women like to breastfeed sitting down, others like to do it lying down, and there’s a case to be made for that because it means that the milk doesn’t rush out quite as quickly and baby has to work just a little bit harder to get the milk. So if baby is feeding a little bit more slowly they may will not regurgitate quite as much. So that’s a tip that works for some women.

Alright so to sum up, breastfeeding is a really good idea, like motherhood and apple pie and all those other really good ideas. Some women for different reasons may not find that it works for them. Don’t be absolutely discouraged by that but also make sure you give it a little bit of a go because there are a number of benefits as we touched on for both baby and the mother. It’s not difficult and in fact focus on just being relaxed and just, in some respects, getting back to nature.

More information

woman-breastfeeding2-100x100 For more information on breastfeeding, including what to eat while breastfeeding and contraception after childbirth, see Breastfeeding.
Man's hand in a shirt on a modern wireless glass touch mouse. For more information on the support and 24 hour breastfeeding helpline that is available to mothers, see Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA): Breastfeeding Helpline.

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