Benefits of breastfeeding
It's never too early to start thinking about how you're going to feed your baby. But you do not have to make up your mind until your baby is born.
In the UK, more than 73% of mothers start breastfeeding. These are some of the reasons why:
- your breast milk is perfectly designed for your baby
- breast milk protects your baby from infections and diseases
- breastfeeding provides health benefits for you
- breast milk is available for your baby whenever your baby needs it
- breastfeeding can build a strong emotional bond between you and your baby
Formula milk does not provide the same protection from illness and does not give you any health benefits.
Health benefits of breastfeeding for your baby
Breastfeeding has long-term benefits for your baby, lasting right into adulthood.
Any amount of breast milk has a positive effect. The longer you breastfeed, the longer the protection lasts and the greater the benefits.
Breastfeeding reduces your baby's risk of:
- infections, with fewer visits to hospital as a result
- diarrhoea and vomiting, with fewer visits to hospital as a result
- sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- childhood leukaemia
- cardiovascular disease in adulthood
Giving nothing but breast milk is recommended for about the first 6 months (26 weeks) of your baby's life.
After that, giving your baby breast milk alongside family foods for as long as you and your baby want will help them grow and develop healthily.
Breast milk adapts as your baby grows to meet your baby's changing needs.
Health benefits of breastfeeding for you
Breastfeeding and making breast milk also has health benefits for you. The more you breastfeed, the greater the benefits.
Breastfeeding lowers your risk of:
Busting some breastfeeding myths
Myth: "It's not that popular in this country."
Fact: More than 73% of women in the UK start breastfeeding, and 17% of babies are still being exclusively breastfed at 3 months.
Myth: "Breastfeeding will make my breasts sag."
Fact: Breastfeeding does not cause your breasts to sag, but pregnancy hormones can stretch the ligaments that support your breasts. Wear a well-fitting bra while you're pregnant.
Myth: "People do not like to see women breastfeeding in public."
Fact: Most people do not mind. The more it's seen, the more normal it will become. The law protects women from being asked to leave a public space while breastfeeding.
Myth: "Formula milk is basically the same as breast milk."
Fact: Almost all formula milk is made from cows' milk. It can contain bacteria, which is why it's vital to make it up with water hot enough to kill any bacteria (70C). It does not protect your baby from infections and diseases like breast milk does.
Myth: "Some women do not produce enough breast milk."
Fact: Almost all women are physically able to breastfeed. Early, frequent feeding and responding to your baby's cues give you the best start to establishing your supply. See Is my baby getting enough milk?
Myth: "If I breastfeed I cannot have a sex life."
Fact: There's no reason why breastfeeding should stop you having sex with your partner. Your breasts may leak a little milk while you're having sex, but you can try feeding your baby beforehand or wearing a bra with breast pads in. Your vagina may feel a little drier than usual because of your breastfeeding hormones. Using some lubricant and taking things slowly will help.
Myth: "Breastfeeding hurts."
Fact: Breastfeeding is a natural way to feed a baby and it should not hurt. If you experience pain in your breasts or nipples, it's usually because your baby is not positioned or attached properly. Ask your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist to watch a whole feed to help spot the problem.
Myth: "My nipples are flat or even inverted, so I will not be able to breastfeed."
Fact: Nipples come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Holding your baby skin to skin after birth will help them find the best way to attach themselves. Your baby breastfeeds, not nipple feeds, so as long as they can get a good mouthful of breast, they should be able to feed perfectly happily.
Myth: "Babies do not need breast milk once they start solid foods at about 6 months."
Fact: Breastfeeding still has lots of benefits for you and your baby after 6 months. It protects them from infections and there's some evidence that it helps them to digest solid foods. It also continues to provide the balance of nutrients they need. The World Health Organization recommends that all babies are breastfed for up to 2 years or longer.
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Page last reviewed: 28 February 2017
Next review due: 28 February 2020