The importance of breastfeeding
Exclusive breastfeeding (giving your baby breast milk only) is recommended for the first six months of your baby's life as breast milk provides all the nutrients a baby needs. After this, you can still continue to breastfeed with other food and drinks for as long as you and your baby like.
Breastfeeding your baby is important because:
- breast milk is the natural first food for babies - it's the food specifically designed for your baby
- breast milk changes as your baby grows so your baby will get all the nutrients, growth factors and hormones needed for the best nutrition, development and health
- breast milk contains antibodies from you which helps protect your baby from infections
- breastfeeding helps to avoid constipation in your baby
- breastfed babies are less likely to get allergies like eczema
- breastfed babies are less likely to become obese in later childhood
Ill or pre-term infants especially benefit from the antibodies, hormones, enzymes and growth factors contained in breast milk. The human milk bank can provide donor breast milk for babies in neonatal units.
Breastfeeding is important for mothers because:
- it can help to build a strong bond between you and your baby
- it lowers your risk of getting breast and ovarian cancer
- it is free
- it naturally uses up to 500 calories a day
- there is no need to sterilise bottles, prepare feeds or keep your baby waiting
- you can do it anytime, anyplace, anywhere
- it's a lot easier than bottle-feeding, especially in the middle of the night
- your womb will return to normal size more quickly
Any amount of breastfeeding has positive effects for both child and mother. The longer you breastfeed your baby, the greater the effect on improving your child's health.
Further advice and support
Breastfeeding is a skill and all new skills need practice. If you have good information and support and are confident about breastfeeding, you should be able to overcome any problems that might arise.
If you have specific concerns, your midwife or health visitor should be able to help, or you could contact a breastfeeding counsellor or local support group.
You may wish to express breast milk. You can do this by hand or using a breast pump.
If you know you are HIV positive, you should not breastfeed or give your baby your expressed breast milk.