The creation and production of breast milk is an amazing feature of the female human body. The ability to feed our own young is thought to have contributed to the human race's continued adaptation to the world's climactic changes. In developing countries, where food is scarce and disease and illness is more prevalent, breast milk contributes to the survival of many newborn babies.
Breastfeeding (like giving birth) is essentially a natural process. However, it is also very complex, dynamic biological practice that is intertwined with many social, cultural and emotional issues. Breast milk is the natural first food for babies and can:
- Exclusively nourish a newborn baby to support healthy development for them to thrive, providing all their energy and nutrient requirements for the first 6 months of life, without the need for extra solid foods, water or formula. Some scientists refer to this as being 'species specific'. Human milk (like the milk of other mammals) adapts to meet the exact nutritional requirements of the human baby.
- Continue to provide up to 50% or more of a baby's nutritional needs from 6 months to 1 year.
- Provide up to 30% of a child's nutritional needs during the second year of life (if continuing to breastfeed for this long).
It is universally recognised that "breast is best' for both baby and mother. Breastfeeding is regarded as a cheap, effective way to support the health of young babies, as well as providing health benefits for the mother. Breast milk cannot be replicated. It changes in composition during each feed and adapts over time to accommodate each baby's changing nutritional needs. However, it is breast milk's 'antiinfective' and 'antiallergenic' properties that make it far superior to artificial formula.
The following lists some of the benefits of breastfeeding (or expressing to provide your baby breast milk) for: