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.
- Breast milk provides health benefits for your baby.
- 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 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.
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 having to go to hospital as a result
- less chance of being constipated
- less likelihood of becoming obese and therefore developing type 2 diabetes and other illnesses later in life
- less chance of developing eczema
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 give your baby the same ingredients or provide the same protection. Breast milk adapts to meet your baby's changing needs.
Health benefits 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Many myths and stories about breastfeeding have been passed down through family and friends, but some are inaccurate or out-of-date.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: 78% of women in England 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 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 practise before it becomes easy. 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.
Clinical 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. Under these circumstances when there's no alternative, bottle feeding with infant formula will be recommended. 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.
If you decide to formula feed, go to Making up infant formula for practical and important safety information.