You’ll have lots to think about and want answers to many questions when you’re pregnant — including how to feed your baby. You can choose from several ways to feed them, depending on what best suits you both.
What are your feeding options?
Babies need milk that contains certain qualities to grow and thrive. They can’t digest any other form of nutrition until they’re around 6 months old. It’s recommended that you feed your baby only breastmilk — called exclusive breastfeeding — for the first 6 months. After that, you can introduce solid foods while you continue breastfeeding.
If you don’t plan to breastfeed, you can give your baby expressed breast milk (EBM), infant formula or a combination of EBM and formula, which is known as mixed feeding. Babies who are premature, unwell or receive care in special care nurseries can also be fed human donor milk.
When is the right time to consider how I will feed my baby?
There is no right time to decide how you will feed your baby, although you may have a clear preference before your baby is born.
You may or may not want to breastfeed. Reasons for not breastfeeding include because you take medication, have breast cancer or have had a negative experience.
What are the benefits of breastfeeding?
For your baby
Any amount of breastfeeding is beneficial, even if you choose to provide breastmilk alongside formula.
- improved immunity to many infectious diseases, due to the antibodies in breast milk
- support a healthy weight and prevention of obesity
- reduce the risk of sudden unexplained death in infancy (SUDI)
- your uterus contract and return to its pre-pregnant size
- prevent a range of health issues such as heart disease, breast and ovarian cancer, and type 2 diabetes
What if I can't decide if I want to breastfeed or not?
You can undertake a few measures to help you decide if you want to breastfeed. Ask for advice from people whose opinion you respect. You can also research and fact check using quality, evidence-based sources. Try to keep an open mind.
Lots of women who try breastfeeding find that they enjoy it.
Why wouldn't breastfeeding be right for me and my baby?
Some women simply feel breastfeeding is not something that they want to do. It’s also not uncommon for women to try breastfeeding before they decide how long they want to continue.
Breastfeeding can also be challenging when a mother and her baby are separated, such as when a mother returns to work. To help manage this, you can breastfeed your baby when you are with them and provide EBM or formula when you are apart. Your partner or your baby’s other parent can also feed them EBM from a bottle. This is a good way for them to connect with each other, too.
Babies who are premature, unwell at birth or with developmental delays can struggle to learn how to suck effectively. Some women are advised to express their colostrum before giving birth, so it can be frozen and offered to the baby after birth.
Further, sometimes breastfeeding isn’t an option when a mother is unwell or has a medical condition.
Formula — what do I need to know?
Any formula which can be bought in Australia will meet a baby’s nutritional needs. It’s important to read the product information and prepare formula exactly as the manufacturer recommends.
Most Australian maternity hospitals participate in the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI). If you plan to feed your baby formula from birth, you may need to take your own bottles, formula and teats to the hospital.
Top tips for deciding how to feed your baby
- Speak with your maternity care provider about what's right for you. Try not to make any firm decisions until after your baby is born.
- Understand that breastfeeding is a skill that every mother and baby can learn, and it can take time to build confidence and to get to know each other.
- Only you know what’s right for you and your baby. If you give your baby the nutrition they need, you don’t need to justify which option you choose.
- Be patient with yourself and your baby as you both learn what's involved in feeding.
- Remember, what’s important is that your baby is content and gets the nutrition they need to grow and thrive.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: September 2020