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.
If you are thinking about breastfeeding, there are so many benefits to breastfeeding your baby.
Breastfeeding can build a strong emotional bond between you and your baby. It:
- Enhances the bonding and attachment process between baby and parent, which helps your baby feel safe and secure.
- Is a fantastic opportunity for skin-to-skin contact. Your body releases positive hormones when feeding the strengthen your bond with your baby.
- Provides time to gaze at one another’s faces, for opportunities for two-way verbal and non-verbal communication.
- Provides time to just connect with each other in a close and intimate way.
- Is available whenever it is needed, so allows you to be a responsive feeder and to be led by the baby’s needs and cues.
Your breast milk is perfectly designed for your baby and is individually tailored to give them everything they need for the first 6 months of their life. Breast milk protects your baby from infections and diseases, as well as having many short and long-term health benefits for both baby and mum. It can be continued alongside food from 6 months for as long as you wish to feed your baby.
Breastfeeding takes time, patience and perseverance to become established but in the longer term is easier, cheaper (free) and an absolutely wonderful experience to share with your precious baby.
A message from your baby
This is how it is for me when you breastfeed:
When you breastfeed me, you make me feel secure and safe. I love being close to you, feeling the warmth of your body and laying skin-to-skin against you. I look up at your face and you look down at me, we sometimes hold eye contact. I see you smiling and you speak to me in soft, gentle tones. This is very comforting and reassuring for me and I try to respond to you in my own little baby way.
When we do this, we both release a ‘feel good’ hormone called oxytocin – it’s our ‘love’ hormone, and it really encourages the bonding and attachment process that you may have heard people talk about.
It is extremely important for me that we have a very strong bond as this helps me to grow and develop in all respects - physically, mentally and emotionally. A good bond will actually help my brain to grow! When oxytocin is released in to our bodies, it makes us both feel good because it is one of our ‘happy’ hormones. This is good for both of us but especially good for you after you have given birth to me. It also encourages your body to produce more milk, which can make learning how to breastfeed easier for me.
I prefer it when you use a baby-led approach to feeding me, by looking for my feeding cues and responding to me appropriately. This means I get food when I need it, and I don’t have to wait for the clock. It also teaches me to develop my skills in letting people know what my needs are, knowing that they will then respond to me and meet those needs, whether I need food, a nappy change, a sleep, or a cuddle. This helps me feel safe, allows me to ‘trust’ and builds on the bonding process.
Breastfeeding is a fantastic way of keeping me physically healthy and supporting my immune system. It will have many positive benefits on my health, not just whilst I am a baby, but also as I grow and develop through my childhood and then into my adulthood.
In those first 3 days, I will be fed with colostrum through your breast. It is different to regular breast milk, much less volume but much thicker and far more concentrated. This is like the ‘Gold standard’ for my immune system, as it sets up my immunity for the whole of my life, so it is really, really important that I receive this.
You milk will come in on about day 3, and I will do my best to take this. One amazing thing that happens is that every time you put me on the breast, my saliva sends messages to your brain to tell you what sort of milk I need for that particular feed. Your milk will change at every feed according to what my saliva tells your body to do.
Even more amazing is the fact that if I am exposed to any germs, e.g. someone with a cold accidentally sneezes near me, my saliva will send a message back to your body and in response, you will produce milk with specific antibodies to fight that particular germ. Isn’t that incredible!
The milk I receive will change from hour to hour, day to day, week to week according to what my health and developmental needs are. When I feed, the first part of my food is all about quenching my thirst and keeping me hydrated, as breast milk is roughly 70% water and 30% fat and other nutrients. As the feed continues, I then start to feed on some of the fattier milk, this is the milk that will help me to grow and put on weight.
Breast milk is natural and designed for babies so it gives me everything I need for the first 6 months of my life and helps both my body and my brain to grow at a steady rate. It is good for my tummy as well, so I tend to be less windy and constipated. It also means my family doesn’t need to be worried about water top-ups, making bottles in the middle of the night, sterilising equipment, etc.
Best of all, it is free and on tap!
It is also really good for your health. It helps your uterus contract, helping you recover from labour. It helps regulate your hormones and gives you doses of the positive hormone oxytocin. This can help when you experience any days feeling low post-birth. It helps you bond with me which will help you when you are feeling very tired. It can sometimes support weight-loss, or at least allow you a few food treats, as I am very hungry and you will burn extra calories feeding me. It is very good for reducing the risks of future disease such as breast and ovarian cancer, osteoporosis (weak bones), cardiovascular, obesity and dementia.
The more you breastfeed me, the greater the benefits.
I love to breastfeed, but I am very new at this and will initially need lots of time and patience to try and understand what I am supposed to do.These videos may help you to understand a bit more:
A video showing how baby should attach at the breast.
Attachment and latching video clip
A health professional explaining how to get the baby well attached at the breast, why good positioning is so important and showing a mother helping baby get attached at the breast
Laid-back breastfeeding video clip
A health professional explaining how to use laid-back breastfeeding as an optional position and what the benefits are.
It’s going to take me a while - probably several weeks - and lots of help and perseverance from you, to understand: how I need to be positioned against the breast, where I need to put my head and at what angle, how I open my mouth wide enough to get hold of a big mouthful of breast and then how to get my sucking technique just right!
It’s important that you and I get lots of practice. This will make it easy for you to feed me without discomfort, to encourage the milk supply so I have plenty to eat when I want it, to feed me little and often because my tummy is very small and I can’t take too much at once and to give me the time I need to perfect my technique.
You may have a partner, co-parent, family, or friends who are going to support you. They can help look after me, you, and the house so you can focus on getting our feeding really well established. Our family and friends will play a vital role in this being a success. They might not be involved in feeding me, but they can do absolutely everything else to help nurture me and take the pressure off you so you can rest in between feeds. They can also help you look after my other needs such as skin-to-skin contact, cuddles, helping me go to sleep, changing my nappies, giving me baths or a massage. There are so many ways that they can also bond with me!
So, when you are considering whether to breastfeed me or not, remember it helps me:
- Physically. To grow at a steady rate, have reduced risks of many short-term and long- term health issues and have a stronger immune system that will last my whole life.
- Mentally. It grows my brain. It’s that simple!
- Emotionally. Your bond with me makes me feel safe, secure and nurtured, leading to me having better levels of confidence and a higher self-esteem as I grow and develop.
Breastfeeding helplines and websites
There is lots of advice and guidance out there to help us:
National Breastfeeding Helpline
- 0300 100 0212
The Breastfeeding Network (Breastfeeding support and information)
- 0300 100 0212
- 0300 456 2421 (for Bengali and Sylheti speakers)
- Visit the website
Association of Breastfeeding Mothers
- 0300 330 5453
- Visit the website
La Leche League (Mother-to-mother support with breastfeeding)
- 0345 120 2918
- Visit the website
National Childbirth Trust (NCT) (Information and support on all aspects of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood, including breastfeeding)
- 0300 330 0700
- Visit the website
Bliss (Special-care baby charity that provides vital support and care to premature and sick babies across the UK)
The Twins Trust (Information about feeding twins and triplets)
Drugs in Breast Milk Helpline
Lactation Consultants of Great Britain (Help you find a lactation consultant near you)
UK Association of Milk Banking (Information about using donated breast milk if your baby is premature or ill, and how to donate breast milk)
UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative