Breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed an infant and is important for baby’s optimal growth, development and health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF in the Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding (WHO 2003) recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed from birth to 6 months and then partially breastfed up to 2 years and beyond.

The New Zealand Ministry of Health’s Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Infants and Toddlers (Aged 0-2) (2008) is an excellent source of information on the importance of breastfeeding, conditions affecting breastfeeding, cup feeding and storing and using expressed breast milk. It also contains a good summary of the key points for breastfeeding.

Helpful Resources

Global Strategy for Infant & Young Child Feeding – WHO & UNICEF

(WHO 2003) recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed from birth to 6 months.

New Zealand Ministry of Health’s Feed & Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Infants and Toddlers

Have you an approved Workplace Breastfeeding Policy to support breastfeeding or expressing breast milk?

Benefits for Babies

Apart from providing all the essential nutrients needed for healthy growth and development, breastfeeding gives numerous other benefits to a baby. It contains many functional components that protect the baby from infection and immune related diseases. It assists the emotional bond between mother and child and contributes to the emotional development of the infant.
Breastfeeding has been associated with a decrease in the incidence and severity of childhood infectious diseases, infant mortality and hospitalisation and the risk of chronic disease for infants. The long term protective effect of breastfeeding seems to be related to the duration and type of breastfeeding the baby receives.

The complex, many and varied benefits of breastfeeding including nutritional, immunological, social and economic cannot be replicated by any infant formula product.

Benefits for Mothers and the Community

As well as benefits to the infant, breastfeeding also confers many benefits to the mother and the community as a whole. Breastfeeding can have a 98 percent contraceptive effect in the first six months after the infant’s birth, assists in postpartum weight control and reduces the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis. The protective effects of breastfeeding in infancy are associated with a reduced risk of obesity and chronic disease in later life resulting in reduced costs to the community for hospitalization and lost productivity.

For more information about the benefits of breastfeeding please click here.

Breastfeeding Rates in Australia and New Zealand

The majority of Australian and New Zealand mothers initiate breastfeeding after the birth of their baby. However despite strong evidence concerning the benefits of breastfeeding the rates remain suboptimal and are well below the levels recommended by the WHO.

In 2007 the Australian House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing conducted a parliamentary inquiry into the health benefits of breastfeeding. It found that there were many and complex factors that contributed to the uptake, rate and duration of breastfeeding. The committee noted “that most mothers are at some point along this spectrum and it is vital that all mothers are supported”. The Best Start – Report on the inquiry into the health benefits of breastfeeding presents an overview of the challenges to breastfeeding in Australia.

The Role of Government

Promoting, supporting and protecting breastfeeding is an important task for government and other stake holders interested in infant health and wellbeing. In Australia and New Zealand there are a number of polices and strategies that recognise this role and provide a framework and direction for the organisation and practice of infant and maternal health services.
Both the Australian and New Zealand governments have recently developed breastfeeding strategies. In 2009 the National Breastfeeding Advisory Committee of New Zealand presented its National Strategic Plan of Action for Breastfeeding 2008-2012: National Breastfeeding Advisory Committee of New Zealand’s Advice to the Director General of Health. Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy 2019 and beyond was endorsed by the Australian Health Ministers’ Conference on 13 November 2009. Its development was led by the Commonwealth Government in consultation with States and Territories and key stakeholders. In addition, the state government jurisdictions of South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania have all developed strategies, guidelines or provided a key focus for breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding Support

Breastfeeding promotes the healthy growth and development of infants and young children. In Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) publishes infant feeding guidelines recommending that infants be exclusively breastfed until around 6 months of age when solid foods are introduced. The guidelines also recommend that breastfeeding be continued until 12 months of age and beyond, ‘for as long as the mother and child desire’ (NHMRC 2012). Find more here.

There is also comprehensive information about the benefits of breastfeeding, how to breastfeed, the stages of breastfeeding and where to get help and support on the New Zealand Ministry of Health’s Breastfeeding Homepage.

The INC Board has adopted a Breastfeeding Policy which commits the Infant Nutrition Council and its members to include strategies and activities in their annual strategic planning that support, promote and protect breastfeeding. INC believes in making its members’ workplaces breastfeeding friendly, and more broadly, believes in enabling parents to become fully informed and confident to ensure healthy and optimal infant nutrition.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is breastmilk better than infant formula?

Breastmilk is the normal way to feed a baby and the best source of nutrition for healthy babies. It contains the right balance of nutrients for infants and also anti-infective agents which protect the baby against infection.

Breastmilk confers immunological advantages which may reduce the incidence of illness and which may extend into later childhood. These include not only antibodies and other immune-protective proteins, but also living cells.

Is mother’s milk affected by diet?

Maternal diet is important and can have an effect on breast milk. More information about healthy eating for breastfeeding mothers can be found at the following website: Australia – Healthy Eating Guidelines for Breastfeeding Women New Zealand – Eating for Healthy Breastfeeding Women/Ngā Kai Totika mā te Ūkaipō

Is it possible to use formula while still breastfeeding?

The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. However there are circumstances when exclusive breastfeeding is not possible. In these circumstances, under the advice of a health professional, it is possible to both breastfeed and formula feed an infant. The introduction of partial bottle feeding may negatively affect breastfeeding.

Partial replacement of breastmilk must only be with infant formula: unmodified cow’s milk (diluted or not) or other fluids are unsuitable and could be dangerous. The formula must be made according to instructions and no other food added to the bottle.

How important is research to infant nutrition?

It is very important. The infant formula industry plays a major role in improving infant and young child health through its substantial investment in research and development. Much of the present knowledge of the benefits of breastmilk is a direct result of research supported by the industry. The results of this research are used to further our knowledge of infant nutrition and, in turn, to develop new products and improve existing products.

In what ways does the Infant Nutrition Council support and protect breastfeeding in Australia and New Zealand?

In what ways does the Infant Nutrition Council support and protect breastfeeding in Australia and New Zealand?