factsheet: why breastfeed?

Breastfeeding gives your baby a healthy start in life – and it’s good for you as well. Here we explain how:

If you’ve decided to breastfeed, you can be confident you’re giving your baby the very best. There’s now lots of research that shows beyond doubt that breastfeeding gives your baby several advantages – and that many of the benefits last into childhood and beyond.

Babies who receive mother’s milk have a reduced risk of

  • gastro-intestinal infections (that means vomiting and diarrhoea)
  • chest infections
  • urine infections
  • ear infections
  • wheezy breathing
  • eczema
  • asthma
  • obesity in childhood
  • diabetes in childhood
  • leukaemia

There are several studies which look at the development of intelligence in babies – and though that’s always difficult to measure, it appears that breastfed babies have better learning abilities.

Breastfeeding also has benefits for you.

Mothers who breastfeed have a

  • reduced risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer
  • reduced risk of ovarian cancer
  • reduced risk of hip fracture in middle and later life, caused by the bone disease osteoporosis

why is mother’s milk best?

Breast milk has antibodies. These are the special substances which recognise disease and infection and go into battle against it. Babies are born with under-developed immune systems, which means they are less able than children or adults to fight off illness. Breast milk fills the gap.

Breast milk antibodies can’t be manufactured, and they aren’t there in formula milk, so in this respect alone, breast milk is always better than formula.

Breast milk has a unique collection of ingredients, including long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) , which help with brain development . Some formula milks have these, but of course they aren’t human LCFAs – just as formula milk has fat, but it is animal or vegetable, not human.

Your breast milk changes, according to the changing needs of your baby. The quality of your breast milk is always high, even if your own diet is poor – though for your own sake try to eat well when breastfeeding. Your breast milk will supply everything your baby needs for food and drink for at least four months.

Currently, the UK Government’s infant feeding committee recommends breastfeeding for at least the first six months of life, though of course you can breastfeed for longer than this. So far, it seems the most valuable health benefits are ensured if you keep breastfeeding with no other foods or drinks for at least this time. However, breastfeeding for a shorter time, or breastfeeding with some bottle feeding, still has clear health benefits.

anything else?

When breastfeeding’s going well, you feel good. You can feel proud your baby’s growing on your milk. Feeding time is relaxing and rewarding. Many mothers enjoy it, and feel they’re close to their baby in a warm and special way.

Here’s some other advantages:

  • breast milk is always ready, at the right temperature and with the right balance of ingredients
  • there are no feeding bottles or teats to clean and sterilise
  • mothers who breastfeed save about £400 a year
  • night feeds are so much easier