Thinking of breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is quite simply the best way to feed your baby, giving your child the best possible start in life. Your milk is unique and changes during each feed, with the time of day, your diet and the baby’s needs. Your breast milk is naturally full of nutrients, enzymes and antibodies. These antibodies can protect your baby from many illnesses including ear, chest, gut and urine infections, as well as from diabetes, eczema, and asthma, which is why breast milk alone is enough to feed your child for the first six months of his life.
Formula milk is cow’s milk with the nutrients artificially added. It is designed for every baby and therefore cannot adapt to your child’s specific needs in the way that breast milk can.
Breastfeeding not only has many associated health benefits for you and your baby it also helps you build that very important bond with your child, both physically and emotionally. The skin-to-skin contact between you and your baby whilst breastfeeding is like nothing you will have experienced before. Holding a baby in your arms and looking into his eyes while he feeds, knowing that you are giving him everything he needs to develop and grow, will bring your protective maternal instincts to the surface.
On top of all of this, breastfeeding is free, convenient and very fulfilling once you have learned the basic skills. Your breast milk is always available, always at the right temperature and always contamination-free. There is no need to sterilise bottles or prepare formula; you are able to feed your baby wherever and whenever he is hungry.
If you need more detailed information about breastfeeding and would like to talk to someone who can answer your questions or concerns then contact one of our Infant Feeding Peer Support Workers. They hold weekly breastfeeding groups and are there to talk to you both before and after you have your baby. The more informed you are before your baby is born the easier you will find things after the birth.
I would recommend going to a group before having the baby. Talk to mums. I went to see my friend and her little girl was 6 weeks and constantly on/off the boob. When my little boy was born i didn’t question that he was feeding constantly and I had seen it first hand!
Knowledge gives you a better understanding to breastfeeding. It also dismisses common myths/housewives tales. Speak to peer support workers or read/look up information.
We have talked to a lot of breastfeeding mums and asked them what advice they would offer to new and first time mums. Have a look at their comments to help you prepare and try one of your local breastfeeding groups to meet other mums with new babies.
make sure to get it right from the start, and don’t hesitate to get advice (from the right people) to avoid any issues
Just decide that for the first few weeks/months your job is to breastfeed – dishes and laundry come second
Be patient and persevere. It’s not always easy especially at first, you’re both learning how to do this, so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get the hang of it on day 1!
Ignore anyone who says “they can’t be hungry AGAIN” yes they can! New babies need to feed little and often, and can go on proper epic cluster feeding marathons- it’s necessary to make sure your milk supply keeps up with demand. Flapjack and lansinoh are essential breastfeeding accessories
It took me 16 weeks to get it right. It would have taken less than half that if I’d actually asked for help from a support worker earlier. Also, my husband often felt helpless when I was in pain and upset until we decided that it helped me for him to rub my feet or get me a drink and snacks each time, just a small task to get him involved. It really helped us stick at breastfeeding because we were a team.
Breastfeeding in the first few days
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals have put together a great leaflet explaining about your milk supply and how it can be affected by introducing formula milk. Have a look at it here, Breastfed babies and formula and read our section Milk Supply, Expressing and Pumps for more detailed information.
Breastfeeding benefits for Children
Before a baby is born, the uterus protects him or her against most of the germs to which the mother is exposed. After birth, the mother’s breast milk continues to protect against many of the viruses, bacteria and parasites to which the baby is now exposed. Several substances in breast milk not only prevent diseases; some stimulate and strengthen the development of the baby’s immature immune system, resulting in better health, even years after breastfeeding has ended. For these and other reasons, based on scientific evidence, the World Health Organisation has adopted, as a public health recommendation, that babies should be fed exclusively on breast milk for six months and continue breastfeeding at least until two years of age.
Breastfeeding promotes child survival
If all babies were fed only breast milk for the first six months of life, the lives of an estimated 1.5 million infants would be saved every year and the health and development of millions of others would be greatly improved
Breastfeeding reduces the incidence of infectious diseases
- Otitis media: Middle ear infections are one of the most frequent reasons for seeing the doctor. In a US study, infants from birth to twelve months who were not breastfed had twice as many ear infections as babies who were exclusively breastfed for about four months
- Diarrhoea: The antibodies in a mother’s milk protect her baby from the germs causing diarrhoea. In poor communities, diarrhoea caused by bottle-feeding is responsible for acute sickness. The cycle of illness, dehydration and malnutrition weakens the child, often fatally. A study from the Republic of Belarus shows that infants exclusively breastfeeding at three months have 40% less risk of developing gastrointestinal infections.
- Pneumonia: Worldwide, pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death in children under five years of age. A study in Brazil showed that the risk of hospitalization for pneumonia among non-breastfed infants was 17 times greater than that for breastfed infants.
Breastfeeding reduces the risk of asthma and other allergies
- In Australia, risk of childhood asthma decreases by at least 40% in infants breastfed for four months.
- A Medline review of twelve studies relating to breastfeeding and asthma points out that exclusive breastfeeding reduced the risk of asthma by 30% and showed still better results (48%) in families with a history of asthma-related illnesses
Breastfeeding benefits for Mothers
Breastfeeding is an integral part of the reproductive cycle: exclusive breastfeeding, followed at six months by the introduction of appropriate complementary foods. Continued breastfeeding until the age of two years or more brings the reproductive cycle full circle. Breastfeeding develops emotional and psychological well-being in mothers, and has numerous health advantages.
Breastfeeding helps in spacing children (LAM):
As long as a mother breastfeeds fully or nearly fully and as long as her periods have not returned, her protection against pregnancy during the first six months is 98 %. This family planning method is called the Lactational Amenorrhea Method – LAM. However, it is always recommended to use contraception as this isn’t a reliable method.
Breastfeeding results in the reduction of anaemia
In the first hours and days after birth, early breastfeeding brings about uterine contractions, preventing excessive blood loss. Over the following months, breastfeeding reduces the frequency and severity of anaemia by delaying the return of monthly periods and helping the mother build her iron reserves.
Long-term effects of breastfeeding on mothers’ health
- Breast cancer: Studies from the US, China, Japan, New Zealand, the UK and Mexico show that women who breastfed their children have reduced risk of developing breast cancer and that the risk declines with increased duration of breastfeeding.
- Ovarian cancer: Breastfeeding for at least two months per child decreases the mother’s risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer.
- Osteoporosis: The risk of hip fracture amongst women over 65 is reduced by half for those who have breastfed. It decreases by another quarter for those who have breastfed each of their children at least nine months.
Breastfeeding benefits for Families
Preparing for the arrival of the new baby, undergoing the birth process, and adapting to the child’s first months are among the most extraordinary, testing, and emotional periods that parents and families’ experience. Loving, caring for, nurturing, but also worrying about one’s child are normal feelings and are sometimes overwhelming. Any illness takes an emotional toll on families; sickness in a newborn baby or a working mother causes even more worry.
Breastfeeding strengthens family ties:
Studies have shown the emotional and psychological importance, as well as the bonding effects of breastfeeding to both mother and child. The importance of bonding is even greater when mothers return to work. Breastfeeding develops a mother’s confidence in her physical and emotional capacities.
Advantages of Breastfeeding to Society
Breastfeeding is more than a personal or family matter, and the decision to breastfeed affects more than an individual mother-baby pair or a single family. Breastfeeding rates have a powerful impact on the whole society by affecting the health of mothers and babies, the economy, and the environment.
Our entire society benefits when babies are given the best possible start in life. The babies being born today will be our country’s future and the nutrition they receive in infancy will serve as the cornerstone of their growth and development. When our children are given every chance to reach their full potential as adults, all of us stand to benefit. Conversely, when babies face health disadvantages because of their early diet, we all pay the price.
Breastfeeding helps to protect the environment:
Environmentally-friendly in its production, consumption and disposal, breastfeeding is a natural and renewable resource. On the other hand, the production of formula, cans, bottles, nipples, labels, packaging, and advertising uses trees, metal, glass, plastics, paper, and fuel and creates an enormous volume of waste materials.
Breastfeeding saves money that would otherwise be spent on formula.
The average family of a bottle-fed baby spends £450 each year on formula. Breastfeeding also makes economic sense because it is less costly to produce than formula; it also allows society to make considerable savings in health care costs. Breastfeeding reduces infant health care costs because breastfed babies have fewer hospitalizations and fewer infections. The latest set of infant feeding profiles (2010 to 2011) from the Department of Health show a correlation between higher breastfeeding rates and lower rates of inpatient admissions for babies less than one year old. This analysis shows a correlation at NHS local level between higher rates of breastfeeding prevalence and lower rates of inpatient admissions among infants under one year old for 10 conditions, including lower respiratory tract infections, gastroenteritis, eczema, otitis media (ear infection), lactose intolerance and asthma. For some conditions, like otitis media, there was also a correlation between breastfeeding prevalence and the rates of admission for children aged 1 to 5 years.
Gastro-enteritis is up to 10 times more common among bottle-fed babies. The hospitalisation of one infant with gastro-enteritis costs between £500 and £1000. Department of Health statistics reveal that 11,554 babies were hospitalised with gastro-enteritis in the UK in 1992. This cost the NHS approx £12 million. Cases of gastro-enteritis treated by GPs cost the NHS a further £6 million. Breastfed babies are rarely hospitalised for gastro-enteritis. Breastfeeding also protects against many other diseases and infections all of which incur costs to the NHS and distress to families. For example, bottle fed babies are twice as likely to suffer from respiratory infections. 49,000 babies were hospitalised with respiratory infections in 1992. Source: Protective effect of breastfeeding against infection. Howie et al., BMJ 1990 336
Current Infant-Feeding Recommendations
Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed1 for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health2. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond. Exclusive breastfeeding from birth is possible except for a few medical conditions, and unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding results in ample milk production. (World Health Organisation)
Breastfeeding improves cognitive, linguistic and motor development
In Denmark a recent study confirmed that breastfeeding affected brain development as measured in the child’s ability to crawl, to grip and to babble in polysyllables: the longer the duration of breastfeeding, the higher the child’s capacities.
Long-term effects of breastfeeding on health
- Bone mass: In Tanzania, a study demonstrated that there was significant association between breastfeeding in infancy and higher bone mineral density among the eight year-old boys examined, in comparison with children that had not been breastfed (11).
- Haemophilus influenzae meningitis: In Sweden a study showed that low breastfeeding rates were followed, five to ten years later, by increased meningitis rates.
- Obesity: In a number of countries (Germany, Czech Republic, the UK, and the USA) research demonstrates that breastfeeding reduces the risk of obesity.
Breastfeeding brings economic benefits and helps to save time:
- Saving of time because there is no need to go out to buy breast milk substitutes or other goods.
- Savings on the purchase of breast milk substitutes and other feeding equipment.
- Less spending on medical care and medication.
- Less time preparing bottles and cleaning utensils.
- Less time and worry spent on having to care for illnesses that could often be avoided.
Breastfeeding benefits for Employers
When infants and children are sick, mothers or fathers often stay home to care for them. National laws may allow parents to take holiday leave or to call in sick themselves. This absenteeism is costly to employers and to national healthcare budgets. Many employed women have only a short period of paid maternity leave. If they want to breastfeed their babies, it is important to set up favourable conditions at the workplace. Many employers provide breastfeeding facilities on-site for their female workers. Adequate hygienic facilities for breastfeeding or expressing and storing breast milk are relatively easy and inexpensive to provide.
- Breastfeeding reduces staff absenteeism
- Breastfeeding contributes towards a more stable workforce
- Employers who support their female employees (maternity benefits, breastfeeding breaks) note improved staff morale, less turnover and increased loyalty.