Pregnancy and baby

Why breastfeed?

How do I breastfeed my newborn baby?

Media last reviewed: 20/03/2014

Next review due: 20/03/2016

It’s never too early to start thinking about how you're going to feed your baby. Today, most women in England are choosing to breastfeed.

  • Breast milk is the only natural food designed for your baby.
  • Breastfeeding protects your baby from infections and diseases.
  • Breastfeeding provides health benefits for mum.
  • It’s free.
  • It’s available whenever and wherever your baby needs a feed.
  • It’s the right temperature.
  • It can build a strong physical and emotional bond between mother and baby.
  • It can give you a great sense of achievement.

Health benefits of breastfeeding for your baby

Breastfeeding is the healthiest way to feed your baby. Exclusive breastfeeding (giving your baby breast milk only) is recommended for around the first six months (26 weeks) of your baby's life. After that, giving your baby breast milk alongside other food will help them continue to grow and develop healthily.

Breastfeeding is good for babies. Breastfed babies have:

  • less chance of diarrhoea and vomiting and having to go to hospital as a result
  • fewer chest and ear infections and fewer visits to hospital as a result
  • less chance of being constipated
  • less likelihood of becoming obese and therefore developing type 2 diabetes and other obesity-related illnesses later in life

Any amount of breastfeeding has a positive effect. The longer you breastfeed, the longer the protection lasts and the greater the benefits.
Infant formula doesn't provide the same protection. Breast milk adapts as your baby grows to meet your baby's changing needs.

Health benefits of breastfeeding for you

Breastfeeding doesn’t only benefit your baby. It benefits your health too. Breastfeeding is good for mums as it:

  • lowers your risk of getting breast and ovarian cancer
  • naturally uses up to 500 calories a day
  • saves money – infant formula, the sterilising equipment and feeding equipment can be costly
  • can help to build a strong bond between you and your baby

Exclusive breastfeeding can also delay the return of your periods. For more information on contraception, see Sex and contraception.

Common breastfeeding misconceptions

Many myths and stories about breastfeeding are passed around by family and friends, but some are inaccurate or out of date. See how many you’ve heard, and separate fact from fiction:

Myth 1: “It’s not that popular – only a few women do it in this country”

Fact: 81% of women in the UK start breastfeeding.

Myth 2: “Breastfeeding will make my breasts saggy”

Fact: Breastfeeding doesn’t cause your breasts to sag, but the ageing process and losing or putting on weight can all have an effect.

Myth 3: “Infant formula is basically the same as breast milk”

Fact: Infant formula isn’t the same as breast milk. It's not a living product so it doesn’t have the antibodies, living cells, enzymes or hormones that protect your baby from infections and diseases in childhood and also later in life.

Myth 4: “People don’t like women breastfeeding in public”

Fact: Surveys actually show that the majority of people don’t mind women breastfeeding in public at all. The more it’s done, the more normal it will become.

Myth 5: “Breastfeeding is easy for some women, but some don’t produce enough milk”

Fact: Almost all women are physically able to breastfeed. It’s a skill that every woman needs to learn and practice. It happens more quickly for some women than others, but nearly all women can produce the amount of milk their baby needs.

Myth 6: “If I breastfeed I can’t have a sex life”

Fact: After you've had your baby you'll decide when it's time to have sex with your partner. The same hormone that helps to release your milk for the baby (oxytocin) is also made when you have sex. When having sex you may leak a little breast milk. This is normal.

Changing from bottle to breast

If you’ve already been formula feeding for a few days but you’ve changed your mind and want to breastfeed, speak to your midwife or health visitor as soon as possible for support on how to build up your milk supply. Or call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212.

Medical reasons for not breastfeeding

Occasionally, there are clinical reasons for not breastfeeding. For example, if you have HIV or, in rare cases, you're taking certain types of medication that may harm your baby. If you’re not sure whether you should breastfeed your baby, speak to your midwife or health visitor for information and support. Alternatively, you can find further sources of help in our Breastfeeding – help and support section.

Formula feeding

If you decide to formula feed, go to Making up infant formula for practical and important safety information.

Page last reviewed: 02/10/2014

Next review due: 02/10/2016


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The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Annaabc said on 29 October 2015

It is a true fact that not all women or babies can breastfeed and this fact is rarely communicated to new mums. There are many reasons why - not enough milk in rare cases, tongue tie (where the baby is unable to latch on due to them not being able to manoeuvre their tongue enough) and in my case injuries to my baby as a result of a forceps delivery. I was told he was latching on well when in hospital but by day 3 my midwife admitted him to hospital for losing too much of his birth weight. To cut a long story short I spent 5 days in hospital with various midwives and breastfeeding specialists trying to get him to feed with no success, he just couldn't do it. In the end I had to express and cup feed him every 2 hours, 24 hours a day. This left little time for sleep and wasn't sustainable so after 6 gruelling weeks I switched to formula. If you are one of the lucky ones that can feed thats amazing, if you're not then formula these days is packed full of goodness for your little one. My little boy is nearly 3 and has never had an ear infection, chest infection and only about 3 mild colds. Its better to feed your baby than be made to feel like a failure by reading all the "Breast is best" info rammed down your throat as a new mum! You're doing an amazing job however you feed your baby!!

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DebParkson said on 27 August 2015

Breastfeeding is by far the best thing you can ever do for your baby, there is never a situation where formula is healthier for a baby compared to breastmilk (that's a scientific, biological and legal fact), and realistically how can it be convenient to the parents either? (choosing, buying, sterilising, heating, cooling, washing, etc compared to simply put on breast!) But the copious formula ads will have many parents undermining themselves before they've even started.
I have fully enjoyed my nursing relationship with all my children from learning this new skill with a newborn through to the world Health organisation recommendation into toddlerhood.
Breastfeeding is truely the best parenting tool ever- 65million years of evolution knows what it is doing so have faith. Women can grow and therefore can feed their babies. Surround yourself with positivity! (Eg, don't bother with formula 'just in case'- you wouldn't keep cake in the fridge 'just in case' when on a diet!!)
I still learn amazing things about breastfeeding- eg a few drops heal wasp stings, nettle stings, and chicken pox spots. There are lots of online facebook groups or real life groups if you want support or information, (especially for example if you are dealing with difficult health professionals or relatives that don't support or understand breastfeeding.)

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elijulie said on 14 December 2012

As there is no longer a hard copy of the Birth to Five book available form Dept of Health, I would strongly recommend pregnant women and new parents access this site asap.

Health professionals also need to be more aware of this and recommend it's use at contacts.

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