A new report released by the NSW Centre for Public Health Nutrition, Australia outlines the health benefits of breastfeeding, which is the foundation for a lifetime of good health.
The report, Report on breastfeeding in NSW 2004, provides a statewide overview of current breastfeeding practices and summarises the health benefits of breastfeeding to infants and mothers.
These recommendations support directions given in previous health plans such as Eat Well NSW: A framework for action for public health nutrition 2002-2007 and Prevention of obesity in children and young people: NSW Government Action Plan 2003-2007.
Liz Develin, NSW Health Manager of Nutrition and Physical Activity says promoting, encouraging and supporting breastfeeding should be a primary aim of nutrition and public health programs across Australia.
"Breastfeeding is protective against gastrointestinal illness, ear infection, and lower respiratory tract infection, and has also been suggested as a possible protective factor against SIDS, urinary tract infection, and meningitis," Ms Develin said.
"Evidence is also emerging that breastfeeding may have a role in reducing chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes, both in childhood and later in life.
Across NSW, approximately 90 per cent of babies receive breastmilk at some time. However, by about six months of age, only about 40 per cent are still being breastfed. This indicates that a considerable proportion of babies are not being fed optimally according to the current Australian (NHMRC*) guidelines.
"There are a number of interesting population characteristics regarding breastfeeding practices of mothers. The mothers of babies that are not breastfed to six months of age are more likely to be younger, less educated, and more financially disadvantaged.
"Being the ideal food for infants, breastmilk contains nutrients that enable physical growth and mental development and helps protect infants against a number of diseases during childhood and later on in adult life.
"Feeding your baby solely with breast milk provides greater protection for infants than partial breastfeeding, but any breastfeeding provides greater nutritional benefits than no breastfeeding at all," Ms Develin said.
The NSW Health Centre for Public Health Nutrition is a research centre located at Sydney University and is funded by NSW Health.