No matter how much new information researchers discover about infant nutrition, the fact remains that breast milk is a great choice for feeding babies.
Breast milk contains all the nutrients, fatty acids, antibodies and immune properties babies need to grow. It also changes and adapts over time, adjusting its fat and nutritional balance to meet each baby’s individual demands for growth and maturity.
One myth about breast milk is that it can become too weak and not be sufficiently concentrated to support a baby’s growth. But this is never true. Although a mother’s supply can be reduced or insufficient in volume to fully satisfy her baby, the quality of breast milk is always ideal.
Recommendations from health care professionals state that babies should be fed only breast milk or infant formula until they are six months of age.
Some of the benefits of breast milk:
- The iron in breast milk is more readily absorbed than formula milk.
- Overfeeding is less common; breastfed babies regulate their own intake of milk.
- Reduction in the likelihood of the child developing asthma, diabetes, ear infections and gastroenteritis.
- Breast milk is portable, always the right temperature, does not require preparation and sterilised equipment.
- Breast milk is free.
- Breastfeeding helps to build the emotional connection and bonding between a mother and her baby.
- Breastfeeding has less of an environmental impact. There is no packaging to dispose of, costly equipment or monetary transaction required.
- Breastfed babies do not become constipated.
- Mothers who breastfeed have a reduced incidence of breast and ovarian cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and osteoporosis as they a
Number of breastfeeds each day
There is no consistent number of breastfeeds each baby should have each day. Gestation, size, age, maturity, growth patterns and individual needs all determine how often babies need to feed. Demand feeding provides the best means of ensuring small babies obtain the amount of milk they need to grow.
- Six or more, pale, wet nappies a day is the standard marker that a baby is having an adequate breast milk intake.
- Golden yellow, soft bowel motions are another sign. Breastfed babies do not need to have a bowel motion each and every day.
- Weight gain also needs to be steady and reflected in the percentile (growth) charts. Breastfed babies tend to gain a lot of weight in the first couple of months and then their weight plateaus. However, dropping from one percentile line to another is concerning. Babies tend to double their birth weight between four-six months and triple it by their first birthday.
- Failing to thrive, not reaching developmental milestones and not being satisfied between feeds are all signs that a baby’s milk intake may be inadequate.
Close to six months of age, a baby’s iron and zinc stores which were built up during pregnancy start to deplete and need to be boosted through the addition of solid foods. Breast milk, though ideal for babies, is not high in iron – an important nutrient needed to support infant brain growth.