Reasons to breastfeed

It may seem like ages until you actually give birth, but how you will feed your baby is an important decision, which can have lifelong benefits for your health as well as your baby’s.

Breastfeeding protects your baby’s health from birth. Research also shows that the benefits can last into childhood and beyond. Breast milk builds immunity to infection, and can help prevent obesity and childhood-onset diabetes.

Breastfeeding is the healthiest option for you and your baby, and health professionals will give you information about it. If you choose not to breastfeed, formula substitutes are available. Whatever you decide, it’s important that you are prepared and feel confident about how to feed your baby.

It is normal to find breastfeeding difficult for the first couple of months until it is well established, especially if this is your first baby, or if you have not breastfed your previous babies. However, it is important to give it a chance right from the beginning and to be patient, as you will experience the rewards later on, when breastfeeding is established and you can start to really enjoy it.

You can speak to your midwife about local breastfeeding support groups which you can attend before and after the birth of your baby where you can ask any questions.

Ask your midwife or health visitor for a copy of NHS Health Scotland’s Off to a Good Startfor detailed information on breastfeeding.

Talking about breastfeeding

During pregnancy your midwife will discuss the health benefits of breastfeeding for both you and your baby, to make sure you have all the information you need to make your choice. Some areas run breastfeeding workshops which you can attend when you are pregnant. They give you lots of information about what breastfeeding is like and what you can expect in the early days.

Most Scottish maternity hospitals are taking part in the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative, which means that staff are trained to give you as much support as you need to breastfeed. It can also be a good idea to chat to a friend who successfully breastfed her baby.

The UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative works to protect, promote and support breastfeeding and to strengthen mother-baby and family relationships. The initiative is being implemented across Scotland and includes standards for hospital and community settings.  At present approximately 90% of babies in Scotland are born in a Baby Friendly hospital.

Exclusively breast-fed babies:

  • are less likely to have illness such as acute ear and gastrointestinal infections (sickness and diarrhoea) and are also less likely to have chest infections that will need to be treated by your GP or in hospital
  • receive natural compounds in breast milk that help to regulate and mature the immune system. Formula milk does not contain these natural compounds
  • if premature, are especially protected against serious gut infection and other infections. The same natural protection is not found in formula milk

In the longer term, breastfeeding has been shown to help lower the risk of diabetes and obesity.  The longer and more exclusively you breastfeed, the bigger the benefit.

Exclusively breastfeeding has benefits for you too

Mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of ovarian and breast cancer.

Other benefits include:

  • you feel good about providing your baby with all its nutritional needs
  • you can be proud that breastfeeding is all your own work
  • its the best 'convenience food'. Breast milk is always 'good-to-go'; with just the right ingredients at just the right temperature
  • there are no bottles or teats to sterilise
  • it's free! Mothers who breastfeed don't have to pay for formula milk, bottles and teats

Exclusive breastfeeding may also help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight, helping to reduce the risks of diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and heart disease.

Breastfeeding is a natural, but often a learned behaviour. It is not always easy but you and your baby will learn together about how breastfeeding works for you both. By continuing to try, and with the right sort of support, breastfeeding your baby can become well established and you will both experience its rewards.

Visit the FeedGood websitefor information, tips and advice from NHS feeding experts and real life stories to build your confidence and support you to breastfeed. You can also watch the From Bump to Breastfeeding video clips online from the Best Beginnings websiteor please speak to your midwife or health visitor if you would like your own copy of the DVD.

How your choice to breastfeed is supported

Soon after your baby is born, you will enjoy skin-to-skin contact with her. This keeps your baby warm and calms her by stabilising her heartbeat and breathing. It also helps to stimulate your breastfeeding hormones.

Keeping baby close, sometimes called rooming in

Most maternity units in hospitals now recommend that babies stay with their mums 24 hours a day. This is called ‘rooming in’ and it helps you to get used to breastfeeding your baby as well as reducing the risk of infection. You’ll have support on hand from the staff in the maternity ward – as well as other new mums – and, of course, you’ll have the opportunity to spend time with your new baby and start bonding with her.

Help and advice

When you are in hospital – and once you are back at home – your midwife will be on hand to give you plenty of practical advice to help you to establish breastfeeding. You’ll be shown how to hold your baby (positioning) and how to encourage her to take your nipple and breast in her mouth correctly (attachment). This will help your baby to feed effectively – and also help you to avoid sore nipples or some of the other problems that new mums can experience when breastfeeding for the first time.

Early first feeds

When you start breastfeeding your baby, the first milk she gets will be colostrum. This will help her to have her first bowel movements and, as it is rich in antibodies, will also help her to fight infections.

It is normal for colostrum to come in very small volumes. It helps the baby adjust to life outside the womb as he learns how to coordinate suck/swallow/breathe. Colostrum is the ideal first food, a very concentrated form of nutrition, high in protein and very easy to digest.

Avoiding teats and dummies

Experts now believe that it is best to avoid bottles and teats altogether if you want to breastfeed successfully. Your midwife will be happy to discuss this with you.

Baby-led feeding

By allowing your baby to feed according to her own hunger or thirst – rather than a rigid timetable – you’ll find that you establish a good supply of milk and avoid breast engorgement.

For further information and advice please visit the section of the site about breastfeeding – or talk to your midwife to discuss your choice to breastfeed.

Last Updated: 11 November 2016
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