Your breastmilk is perfectly designed for your baby. As well as having all the nutrients your baby needs to grow and develop, human milk has very special ingredients such as antibodies, hormones and stem cells to help protect your baby now, and in the future.
There are many benefits to breastfeeding, listen to some mums and dads from Medway describe their favourite things about breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding makes a difference to you and your baby every day.
Antibodies in breast milk help protect your baby from illnesses including:
- vomiting and diarrhoea
- ear and chest infections
- kidney infections
- cow's milk allergy, asthma and eczema
Babies who are breastfed have lower blood pressure and lower total cholesterol later in life. They are less likely to have childhood diabetes, childhood obesity, and heart disease. Breastfeeding also helps support brain development, and so it is thought to increase IQ and reduce behavioural problems.
Women who have breastfed are at a lower risk of:
- breast cancer
- ovarian cancer
- osteoporosis (bone thinning)
- type 2 diabetes
- breastfeeding also helps you regain your pre-pregnancy weight more easily.
Why is breast milk different to formula?
Breast milk is made especially for babies so it has everything a baby needs. It contains water, vitamins, minerals, fats and carbohydrates for nutrition. It also contains additional substances which aren’t found in formula milk: hormones, growth factors, immunological factors, protective factors and essential fatty acids help the baby grow, sleep, and fight infection and disease. Formula does not have these amazing ingredients.
Breast milk has an amazing ability to change to give the baby exactly what it needs. The first milk a mum makes after birth is called colostrum.
It is very concentrated and packed full of antibodies and immune cells. It is known as the most potent natural immune booster known to science.
Milk changes from colostrum to mature milk over the first few days. Your milk can change to suit your baby’s needs. If a baby is sick, the mum will make more antibodies to help her baby fight infection. If it is a hot day, the milk will be more watery to quench baby's thirst.
This is all a baby will need until they are 6 months and then women can continue to breastfeed alongside introducing solids.
Not only does breast milk change as the baby gets older but it changes from feed to feed. Breast milk contains more melatonin at night, which helps babies to sleep.
Formula milk is the best alternative to breast milk if a mum chooses to, or needs to, bottle feed. Formula milk is usually made from cow’s milk. Regular cow’s milk can’t be digested by babies so the milk has to be altered first. Other ingredients such as soy protein and fish oils are added for nutrition. For more information on formula milk please see UNICEF’s guide to bottle feeding.
Breast milk is also:
- free: you don’t need formula milk, bottles, teats or sterilising equipment
- always available, with the right ingredients at the right temperature, so it’s easier to feed at night or on the go
- it’s environmentally friendly because there’s no manufacturing, packaging or waste.
Breastfeeding also helps:
- form a bond between mother and child as you see your baby grow and develop healthily
- everyone get more sleep, as you don’t have to get up at night to prepare bottles plus breastfeeding releases hormones that make you and your baby feel sleepy.
Why breastfeed to six months?
It is recommended that babies only receive breast milk for the first six months of their lives. Breast milk has the right amount of nutrients and water for a baby and so they do not need anything else added to their diet.
- Babies have very delicate digestive systems which are only designed to drink their mum’s milk. A mum will make the right amount of milk for her baby. Overfeeding babies, which can happen with bottle feeding, can upset babies’ tummies.
- Breast milk protects babies from infections and diseases, both immediately and throughout adulthood.
- Breastfeeding lowers mums’ risk of developing illnesses such as breast cancer, postnatal depression and heart disease
- Breast milk is ready when you need, no preparation or costs involved.
- Breastfeeding can help mums and babies form strong emotional bonds.
- Breastfeeding changes to meet babies needs everyday. If the weather is hot, breastmilk becomes more watery to quench babies thirst. Babies will often have smaller, more frequent feeds in hot weather and this is completely normal.
Breast milk continues to benefit babies after six months and so it is recommended that breastfeeding continues after six months alongside eating solid foods.
Please note that there are different types of formula:
‘First infant formula’ should be given to babies under six months if breast milk is not available. You can continue to give this to baby is one year old and move onto cow’s milk.
‘Follow-on milk’ is not suitable for babies under six months of age and is not necessary to give this to babies at 6 months or a year.
Beyond 6 months
It is a personal choice when you choose to stop breastfeeding. If you're enjoying breastfeeding, you can continue for as long as you and your baby want to. That could mean until she's a year or two years old or beyond. There's no need to stop before you're both ready. Before having a baby, most women have an idea of how long they aim to breastfeed their baby for.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends babies are given only breastmilk for the first six months of their lives. After six months WHO recommends babies are given breastmilk, alongside solid foods, until they are two years old.
If you feel the time is right for you and your baby, see our when you're ready to stop page for more support.
Many women feel pressured to stop breastfeeding. Women face a number of challenges such as: going back to work, pressure from family members or partners, excessive advertising of infant formulas and “follow on milk” or concerns about breastfeeding in public. Sometimes women find the friends they made in antenatal classes or baby classes stop breastfeeding their children and they feel that they should too.
Breastfeeding drop-ins are a great way to find extra support when breastfeeding beyond six months.
Holly explains why she has chosen to breastfeed Aurora into her 2nd year alongside other foods.
- How do I prepare to breastfeed?
- What can I do to get breastfeeding off to the best start?
- How to keep baby calm and help grow their brain
- What do I need to breastfeed?
- Why breastfeed?
- Common myths
- Should I harvest colostrum before my baby is born?
- How can I tell breastfeeding is going well?
- For younger parents thinking about breastfeeding