Breastfeeding is a normal and beneficial way of feeding your baby. It is recommended that you exclusively breastfeed your baby until about six months. At six months, it is recommended to continue breastfeeding your child as you begin to offer solids, and until 12 months or longer. In many Western countries, including Australia, breastfeeding past the age of 12 months is known as extended breastfeeding. While breastfeeding for this amount of time is not essential, it does bring greater benefits for your baby’s health, such as fighting infections and reducing the risk of diarrhoea, asthma, ear infections, diabetes in childhood or later life.
Choosing to formula feed (or bottle feed) your baby instead of breastfeeding is a valid choice to make. For some, breastfeeding may not be possible, and the decision to breastfeed or formula feed is based on their comfort level, lifestyle, and medical situation. It is safe to bottle feed straight from birth and does not make you a bad parent. Infant formulas are a nutritious alternative designed to mimic breast milk using a complex combination of proteins, sugars, fats, and vitamins. There are some challenges with formula feeding, due to the complexity of breastmilk, lack of antibodies in formula, expense of formula, preparation required, and possibility of the baby producing gas and constipation. Some parents also choose to both breastfeed and formula feed to suit their lifestyle. Regardless of your reason to breastfeed or formula feed, it is your decision to make.
Some nipple tenderness is to be expected if breastfeeding, although pain or bleeding and cracked nipples is a sign that your baby may not be attaching well to the breast. If you choose to formula feed or need to stop breastfeeding abruptly, you may find that your breasts become full and feel uncomfortable. The best thing to do is to wear a supportive bra and only express what you need to for comfort. Your milk supply will gradually decrease.
Mastitis occurs when there is a blockage of milk in the milk duct. This can cause inflammation of the breast and can lead to infection. Some women are more prone to mastitis, and some of the causes include a poor attachment to the breast, nipple damage, a long break between breastfeeds, breasts that are too full, or stopping breastfeeding too quickly. Signs and symptoms include a red, sore area on the breast, and flu-like symptoms. Your doctor can prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection, however cool compresses or ice packs, and chilled cabbage leaves can be a useful remedy for inflammation. Warmth can be applied briefly before feeding to help with blockages and pain. It is important to rest and try and keep expressing or breastfeeding.
Remember breastfeeding is learnt and can take time to do. If you have any concerns or trouble breastfeeding, consult your midwife, lactation consultant, doctor, your baby’s paediatrician, or any of the below resources:
- Australian Breastfeeding Association run a helpline that offers mother-to-mother support by phoning 1800 686 268
- Many maternity units and child and family health services have lactation consultants. There are also private lactation consultants who can be found here
- Many maternity units and child and family health services conduct breastfeeding clinics for those experiencing breastfeeding difficulties
For more resources at every stage of breastfeeding, visit: