Breastfeeding; Benefits, Common Challenges and Support Services

There are many benefits of breastfeeding for baby and mother, but there can also be challenges for some. Here we unpack what the benefits are, some common challenges and where to find support.

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Introduction to Breastfeeding

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that ‘children initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life’. Breastfeeding (who.int) Whilst this is not possible for all women, there is now a greater range of support and information available to help you have the smoothest start to your breastfeeding journey and to help you successfully breastfeed for as long as you and your baby desire. Below we answer some of the most asked questions about breastfeeding and provide information about where to go for further information and support.

Breastfeeding; Benefits, Common Challenges and Support Services
Breastfeeding has benefits for both baby and mother, most are significant health benefits, but also – it’s FREE!


What are the biggest advantages of breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding your baby comes with many advantages – including some particularly valuable health benefits. Research has shown us that breastfeeding can help protect a baby from a wide range of illnesses, including gastrointestinal infections, urine infections, asthma, eczema, and even diabetes. It is also widely understood that breastfeeding can lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), childhood leukemia, inflammatory bowel disease and coeliac disease. If you would like to learn more about the research behind the health benefits of breastfeeding, check out the following link: What are the benefits of breastfeeding? | NICHD – Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (nih.gov)

In addition to the very obvious health benefits, breastfeeding is also an incredibly convenient and environmentally-friendly way of feeding your child. Sterilising bottles and preparing formula takes time, whilst a breastfeeding mother is able to easily feed their child anywhere and anytime.

How is breastfeeding beneficial to the mother?

We commonly hear things like ‘breast is best’, so it is not surprising that breastfeeding comes with some real benefits for your baby, but did you know that it also has benefits for the mother? Breastfeeding will help a mother’s body recover from the birth much faster and reduces the risk of haemorrhage. There is also evidence that breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis.

In addition to the health benefits, breastfeeding releases hormones that make a mother feel relaxed, and therefore it can support better sleep habits. This is important with a new baby since sleep is frequently interrupted to meet the baby’s need to feed.

Finally, breastfeeding costs nothing. Since we know that having and raising a child is not a cheap endeavour, breastfeeding is just one simple way that parents can lower their expenditure and save money.  

At what age is breastfeeding no longer beneficial?

The process of stopping breastfeeding is known as weaning. Each mother and baby can decide when the time is right to begin weaning. Whilst the WHO does recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, they also encourage continued breastfeeding for two years and beyond.

As a baby begins to eat solid foods, they usually decrease the number of breastfeeds they have across the day. When a baby reaches 9-12 months old, their bodies get better at digesting the foods that they eat and they rely less on breastmilk for nutrition.

There is no set recommendation for the right time to begin weaning a child. It is a personal decision that a mother and baby can make on their own. Whilst many people feel uncomfortable breastfeeding past two years of age, it is interesting to know that The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) states that the natural weaning age for humans is between 2 and 7 years old. Whilst most toddlers tend to naturally wean at some stage between the ages of 2 and 4, in many countries it is not unusual for a mother to breastfeed a child to the age of 7.


How long can a woman produce breast milk?

The human body is an amazing thing. A woman’s body is able to produce breast milk to meet a baby’s needs across all stages of breastfeeding – from a newborn to a toddler and beyond. Whilst there remains a demand, the body will continue to produce milk. Interestingly, it is even possible to induce lactation, and this has allowed many adoptive mothers to successfully breastfeed an adopted baby. Whilst this process involves incredible dedication, it is certainly possible. If you would like to know more about inducing lactation, you can learn about it here: Breastfeeding Without Giving Birth | La Leche League International (llli.org)


Is it OK to just pump and not breastfeed?

If you are determined to breastfeed your child, but find that for some reason you are unable to, pumping can be a very good alternative. There is absolutely nothing wrong with pumping breastmilk to give to your baby in a bottle.

It is not uncommon for mothers to choose this option when they have birthed a premature baby who must remain in hospital for a period of time, making breastfeeding very difficult. This is also a good option for mothers who experience significant difficulties getting their baby to latch correctly and for those that need to return to work shortly after the birth of their baby. Whatever the reason – pumping milk to give to your baby is a great alternative to breastfeeding for many mothers and will allow a baby to get the benefits of breastmilk without nursing directly from the breast.


Is it better to breastfeed or use formula?

Unfortunately, this question can incite a lot of controversy and cause criticism and judgement. Whilst it is true that there are many benefits of breastfeeding, there are also many people who are unable to breastfeed for a wide range of reasons. We are so fortunate to live in an era where there are other options available to us and for many mothers and babies – fed is certainly best.

Breastfeeding; Benefits, Common Challenges and Support Services
Some women are unable to breastfeed and this should not be a cause for stress – fed is best, and a formula fed baby can still grow to be just as healthy.

Using formula is a perfectly appropriate option for many families and it is unfortunate that a level of shaming seems to occur amid the breast vs bottle debate. The bottom line is that if you ask a preschool teacher to guess which children in her class were breastfed and which were formula fed – they would be unable to do it. Formula allows babies and children to grow and be healthy and strong – just as with breastfed babies. The most important things is that mother and baby are healthy and happy, regardless of how baby is fed.


What are the most common breastfeeding challenges?

If you are having trouble breastfeeding, it could be an issue with how your baby is latching.  A poor latch will cause the mother pain and often means that the baby isn’t getting enough to eat. A good latch involves the baby taking in the areola and not just the nipple and it is important to establish this correctly from the very first breastfeed.

Breastfeeding; Benefits, Common Challenges and Support Services
Correct latching is key for successful breastfeeding. A lactation consultant can help with this if needed.

Here are the most common latching problems that women experience:

–          Poor positioning of mother. If you are not sitting in a good position, your baby might find it harder to latch properly.

–          Poor positioning of baby. If your baby’s head and body is not positioned correctly, it will be difficult for him/her to latch.

–          Flat or inverted nipples. This can make breastfeeding more difficult but not impossible.

–          Tongue tie. This can occur when a baby’s tongue is restricted by a thin membrane that can make it hard for baby to attach properly to the breast. Tongue tie occurs in 4-11% of newborns and this can be diagnosed by a doctor. Frenotomy for tongue-tie in newborn infants – PubMed (nih.gov)

Other challenges with breastfeeding can include:

–      Low milk supply

–      Engorgement of the breasts, causing pain.

–      Plugged ducts, creating a tender and sore lump in the breast.

–      Fungal infections of the nipples or breasts.

–      Exhaustion.

–      Feelings of sadness, depression or judgement.

Whilst this list might seem extensive, a qualified lactation consultant can become your best friend who can help you through many of these challenges. You can find a qualified lactation consultant here:  Find a Lactation Consultant – LCANZ Lactation Consultants of Australia & New Zealand.

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What are the common barriers to breastfeeding?

Perhaps the biggest barrier to successful breastfeeding is a lack of information and support for new mothers. It is often wrongly assumed that breastfeeding should occur ‘naturally’ and that establishing breastfeeding should be instinctual for both mother and baby. Unfortunately, this assumption is very wrong. Babies need to be taught how to successfully breastfeed. They are not born knowing how to do it properly. Breastfeeding takes time and practice so having clear information about what to expect is beneficial during pregnancy. Most antenatal classes will provide information related to breastfeeding and The Australian Breastfeeding Association is also a very valuable resource for expecting and nursing mothers. Knowledge and support will be a key factor in overcoming any potential  problems or barriers that might arise for a breastfeeding mother.


How do I know my baby is full when breastfeeding?

Many new mothers worry about whether or not their baby is getting enough milk when breastfeeding. This is also one of the main reasons that women decide to stop breastfeeding. Fortunately, there are some clear signs to look for to know if your baby is getting full from their feeds.

A full baby will look full. They will appear relaxed and content and often fall asleep after a good feed. A mother can also feel that a breast has been emptied or softened when her baby has finished nursing. If the breast is still firm, baby might need to spend a bit more time feeding. One of the great things about breastfeeding is that if a mother is unsure as to whether their baby has had enough, she can re-offer the breast to baby and try again. A hungry baby will generally continue nursing if they are hungry whilst a full baby might refuse the breast or want to sleep. There are other biological cues that will help you determine if your baby is getting enough. Keeping track of how many wet and soiled nappies your baby has over a 24 hour period will help to determine if your baby is requiring more.

How do you get a good latch for breastfeeding?

No matter what breastfeeding position you find most comfortable, there are a few strategies that can ensure that your baby latches correctly. Firstly, tickle your baby’s lips with your nipple to encourage your baby to open their mouth wide. The wider they open their mouth the better, so that they can take in much of the areola and not just the nipple. Make sure that your baby’s chin isn’t tucked into their chest and they should lean into the breast with their chin first and then latch onto the breast. As your baby takes the breast into their mouth, their tongue should be extended, and their lips turned outwards. If your baby only latches on to the tip of your nipple, gently place a clean finger in the corner of their mouth to break the suction and then try again.

Breastfeeding; Benefits, Common Challenges and Support Services
The ABA (Australian Breastfeeding Association) run the Breastfeeding helpline which you can call 24/7 for any mothers who need help or support with breastfeeding.

When learning to breastfeed, positioning can make a big difference in achieving a good latch. Firstly, it is important to feel comfortable and relaxed, so a supportive chair and a glass of water nearby is a great idea to begin with. Knowing a range of positions for feeding can also help reduce pain or discomfort. The following video clip demonstrates four popular positions for breastfeeding that will help you to achieve a good latch: (894) 13 Breastfeeding Positions – YouTube.

Can you over breastfeed a newborn?

All babies are born with a self-regulation system that lets them know when they are hungry and also when they are full. When a baby is hungry, they will turn towards the nipple and when they are full they will turn away. It might be comforting to know that because of these biological systems, it is almost impossible to overfeed a baby through breastfeeding. If your baby is gaining weight and your doctor is happy with their progress – there is absolutely no need to worry about overfeeding your baby.


What foods help produce breast milk?

One of the best things you can put into your body to help with breastmilk production is water. Most mothers notice that they often feel thirsty when nursing their baby and this is because your body needs to be well-hydrated to produce an adequate milk supply. In addition to getting enough water, the following foods have been proven beneficial for mothers who are trying to boost their breastmilk production:

–      Oatmeal

–      Pineapple

–      Garlic

–      Nuts (almonds, walnuts, peanuts)

–      Sweet potato

–      Salmon

For any breastfeeding mother, sticking to a healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables and lean meats will help you to develop and maintain a good breastmilk supply.

Breastfeeding; Benefits, Common Challenges and Support Services
Foods high in healthy fats such as nuts and salmon can be very beneficial for nursing mothers.

How do you get support for breastfeeding?

Thankfully, there are a wide array of resources available to help and support breastfeeding mothers.

A lactation consultant is someone who holds a specific qualification in supporting women and babies in lactation care. They are certified and knowledgeable in all aspects of breastfeeding and are experienced in helping a mother and baby through a wide variety of complex breastfeeding issues. It is a great idea to see a lactation consultant prior to birth for a focus on preventative care. Post birth, a lactation consultant can be invaluable for helping a mother and baby establish a correct latch right from the start. Some hospitals include access to a lactation consultant as part of their service, but for those that do not, the Lactation Consultants of Australia and New Zealand website contains a ‘find a lactation consultant’ service to help mothers get in touch with a local lactation consultant. Find a Lactation Consultant – LCANZ Lactation Consultants of Australia & New Zealand.

Breastfeeding; Benefits, Common Challenges and Support Services
Breastfeeding should not be painful for the mother, it should be relaxing and comforting. Seek support if feeding is painful.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) runs the National Breastfeeding Helpline. This helpline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and is staffed by trained volunteer councillors who can provide reassurance and knowledge relating to the challenges associated with breastfeeding. To contact the National Breastfeeding Helpline, just phone 1800 686 268 at any time – day or night.

What is the Australian Breastfeeding Association?

The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) is a service that provides information and support in relation to breastfeeding. The ABA was established in 1964 with a goal of helping and supporting mothers to successfully breastfeed. The association is staffed by more than 1100 volunteers who are trained counsellors that are also mothers that have experience breastfeeding their own children.

The ABA encourages women to breastfeed or to provide breastmilk to their babies and has a strong focus on raising awareness surrounding the benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby. In addition to their Breastfeeding Helpline, the ABA also provides a Livechat service, a mum2mum app, an informative website and information about local services, antenatal classes and support groups. You can find all of this information on the ABA website here: Australian Breastfeeding Association

Summary of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can be challenging for many women but fortunately there is a wide range of information and advice available to help a mother overcome these challenges to be able to successfully nurse their baby. Although there can be tears and tantrums – and not just from the baby – persisting with breastfeeding can have a wide range of benefits for both mother and baby. If you are determined to breastfeed your baby, reach out early for advice and support, and remember that the National Breastfeeding Helpline is there to help you too. Just phone 1800 686 268 at any time of the day or night to access a trained counsellor. You won’t regret it!

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