Read on to find out what is the perfect food for your baby.

Without a doubt, breast milk is the ideal and most natural food for your baby. That's why exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of your baby's life is recommended. This means that your baby is not fed any other food or fluids, including water. However, do consult a doctor regarding the amount of water to provide to infants who are ill (e.g. fever, diarrhoea). The World Health Organization recommends you continue breastfeeding your child up to two years of age, or longer, if you can. Complementary foods should be offered together with breast milk after 6 months when baby is introduced to solids.

How breastfeeding benefits your baby

Provides optimum nutrition

Breast milk contains just the right amount of nutrients for your baby's growth and development. Your milk production adjusts to your baby's hunger, and the composition changes to meet your growing baby's nutritional needs.

Protects against illnesses

It is well known that breastfeeding helps a baby's immune system, as antibodies are passed from the mother to the child, which protects the baby from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea, as well respiratory infections. Breast milk also offers long-term benefits to children. For example, children who were breastfed are likely to have lower risk of being overweight or obese.

Protects against allergies

More mothers recognise that breastfed infants have fewer allergies, like asthma and eczema, than their formula-fed counterparts. This is because breastfed babies are exposed to fewer allergy-causing substances such as cow's milk and soy protein. This delay to allergens until baby is older, and the immune system is more mature, reduces the chances of developing allergies. The antibodies that pass from mother to child also strengthen the immune system.

Promotes greater mother-child bond

Held close against your body during breastfeeding, your baby feels warmth and security. It also strengthens the emotional bond between you and baby. Your baby can hear your heart beat, soothing voice, and make eye contact, deepening the special relationship between mum and child.

Improves jaw movement

The sucking action used in breastfeeding is a complex movement of facial muscles and tongue. This constant, repetitive motion gives your baby's jaw and facial muscles a good workout, which strengthens and improves their development.

Provides long-term health benefits

Studies show that children who were breastfed may have lower blood pressure and total cholesterol, as well as a reduced risk of obesity and diabetes later in life.

How breastfeeding benefits you

Economical and convenient

Breastfeeding is convenient and requires no preparation, mixing and bottles. It is uncontaminated and free of germs, as it comes straight from the breast. You can nurse your baby anywhere and at any moment's notice, saving you a lot of time and money.

Promotes post-partum weight loss

Lactation requires additional calories. So you can expect to lose some of the weight gained during pregnancy when you breastfeed. Nevertheless, it is important you have a healthy and balanced diet while breastfeeding.

Helps the uterus shrink back to original size

Breastfeeding stimulates your uterus to contract back to its original size.

Protects against breast cancer

Breastfeeding decreases your risk of breast cancer.

The breastfeeding experience

Breastfeeding beyond the initial months can be challenging for many new mums. There are many reasons why you may feel unable to continue to breastfeed. Know that you are not alone. Here are some ways you can make your breastfeeding experience enjoyable, rewarding and successful.

Get support

There's a saying: It takes a village to raise a child. The same goes for a mother to succeed in breastfeeding. Support is very important in prolonging the process of breastfeeding. Get encouragement from your family members or spouse, connect with a Breastfeeding Mothers Support Group, attend antenatal classes and speak to your friends or colleagues who have breastfed their babies. Chances are they have had similar experiences and are able to offer invaluable advice and empathy.

Consult a health professional

If you experience breast engorgement, sore nipples and mastitis (breast infection), see a doctor or a lactation nurse for advice on overcoming these problems.

Eat a well-balanced diet and get enough rest

Remember, you need a balanced diet that includes 500 extra calories a day and plenty of fluids. Rest is also important to successful breastfeeding. Try to get as much rest as possible to prevent breast infection, which can be aggravated by fatigue.

Get prepared

The more you know about breastfeeding, the more prepared you are. So read and research as much as possible. This will help ensure that breastfeeding is a wonderful and fulfilling experience for you and your family.

If for some reason you are unable to breastfeed, don't despair. Consult your doctor on a suitable infant formula for your baby.

If you have decided to breastfeed, remember:

  • breastfeed your baby exclusively for the first 6 months
  • get the support you need – from your family and friends, a breastfeeding support group, or a health professional.

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Contributed by:
Health Promotion Board