Benefits of breastfeeding
Breastfeeding has significant health benefits for both babies and mothers.
Evidence shows that breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from:
intestinal inflammation (necrotising enterocolitis)
Breastfeeding also benefits mothers by:
promoting faster recovery from childbirth
reducing the risks of breast and ovarian cancers in later life
increasing birth spacing
reducing the chance of maternal depression
helping with mother–infant bonding.
Our Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy aims to support all mothers to breastfeed their babies and provide an enabling environment for breastfeeding.
Mothers may want to express breastmilk for several reasons. It may be needed for premature babies that can’t suck effectively. It can be convenient to express milk to be given later if a mother needs to be away from her baby. Expressing milk can also help increase milk supply.
Read more about expressing breast milk from the:
Weaning is when you stop breastfeeding your baby or toddler. It is different to introducing solid foods to your baby and is best done slowly.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare publishes reports about breastfeeding and nutrition in Australia.
COVID-19 and breastfeeding
While there is no evidence breastmilk carries COVID-19, the virus passes easily from person to person through close contact.
If you have COVID-19 or think you might, it is very important that you:
clean your hands before and after touching your baby
wear a face mask when you’re within 1.5 metres of your baby
regularly clean and disinfect any surfaces you touch
get tested if you become unwell.
The well-proven benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any risk of transmitting COVID-19 to your baby. But if you are unwell, you may prefer to express breastmilk for your baby.
Read more about COVID-19 and breastfeeding.
Alcohol and breastfeeding
If you are breastfeeding, avoid alcohol to prevent harm to your child. Even a small amount of alcohol can harm a baby's development and may have lifelong effects.
Learn more about alcohol during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Smoking and breastfeeding
If you are breastfeeding, avoid smoking because of health risks to you and your child.
Learn more about the risks of smoking while breastfeeding.
Milk banks and donor breastmilk
For babies who cannot receive their own mother’s breastmilk, donor breastmilk from another woman is the next best thing. This may be particularly important for sick or premature babies.
Usually, hospital intensive care units for babies source donor milk from formal milk banks. These screen donors to ensure donors don’t have medical conditions or a lifestyle that could harm their breastmilk. They also pasteurise and test the milk.
Not all hospitals provide access to donor milk from milk banks.
While you might consider sourcing breastmilk through informal networks, such as family, friends or social media, it isn’t tested or screened and could put your baby at risk.
See the Operational guidelines for human milk banks in Australia and New Zealand. It provides information on collecting, processing and distributing human donor milk.
Not every mother breastfeeds. Some mothers struggle with it, while others choose not to breastfeed. If you are not breastfeeding, the only safe alternative is infant formula. Learn more about feeding your baby and where you can get help.
All infant formula must contain specified amounts of nutrients, including enough energy for your baby to grow. Safe preparation of infant formula is important.