Page modified at: 14/03/2010
Breastfeeding gives babies the best start in life
Breastfeeding is natural and normal and gives your baby the best start.
The Department of Health recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life and can continue to benefit your baby along with solid foods for many months after. Every day you breast feed makes a difference to your baby’s health now and in the future.
Breastmilk gives babies all the nutrients they need for the first six months of life and helps protect them from infection and diseases. It also reduces mothers' chances of getting certain diseases later in life.
Breastfeeding also allows you and your baby to get closer - physically and emotionally. So while your child is feeding, the bond between you can grow stronger.
Bottle feeding does not give your baby the same ingredients as breastmilk, which is designed to be easy for your baby to absorb and is perfect to help him grow and develop. Also, bottle feeding doesn't provide protection against infection and diseases.
Breastfeeding helps protect your baby against:
- ear infections
- gastro-intestinal infections
- chest infections
- urine infections
- childhood diabetes
Breastfeeding helps protect mothers against:
- ovarian cancer
- breast cancer
- weak bones later in life.
Women who breastfeed return to their pre-pregnancy figure faster
Tips for successful breastfeeding
- Make sure your baby is properly attached to the breast.
- You will have a good supply of milk and your baby will get a good feed.
- It will help stop your breasts getting sore.
- How to get your baby to latch on when breast feeding
- Try not to give your baby other food or drink.The more you feed your baby, the more milk you will produce. Giving other food or drink will reduce your milk supply. You might increase the chance of your baby getting an infection.
- Try not to give your baby a dummy. It can make it more difficult for your baby to attach to your breast. Your baby will be less likely to feed when they need to.
Don’t be scared to ask for help
It can take a while before you feel confident breastfeeding. Your midwife or health visitor can support you. Or you can contact one of the helplines and organisations that can advise you about breastfeeding.
If you stop breastfeeding, it can be difficult to start again.
What does 'expressing milk' mean?
Expressing milk means squeezing milk out of your breast.
Why do mothers express their breastmilk?
Their breasts might feel uncomfortably full.
Their baby might not be feeding well, and they might want to give them breastmilk.
They might want somebody else to feed their baby.
What ways are there to express milk?
You can express milk by hand or with a hand pump or an electric pump.
If you are using a pump, it is a good idea to try before you buy, if possible – different pumps suit different women. Always make sure a pump is clean and sterile before you use it.
How can I express milk by hand?
Cup your breast and feel back from the end of the nipple to where the texture of your breast feels different.
Using your thumb and index finger, gently squeeze this area – this shouldn’t hurt.
Release the pressure and then repeat again and again, building up a rhythm. Avoid sliding your fingers over the skin. Milk should start to flow.
When the flow slows down, express from the other breast. Keep changing breasts until the milk stops or drips very slowly.
If the milk doesn’t flow, try moving your fingers slightly towards the nipple or further away. Or try a gentle breast massage.
How should I store breastmilk?
Remember to use a sterilised container to put the milk in. You can store milk in the fridge for up to 5 days at 4°C or lower (usually at the back). Breastmilk can be stored for two weeks in the ice compartment of a fridge or for up to six months in a freezer. If you are freezing breastmilk because your baby is premature or ill, ask the staff caring for your baby for advice.
You can feed expressed milk straight from the fridge if your baby is happy to drink it cold, or else warm the milk in lukewarm water to take the chill off.
How do I cup feed my baby with expressed milk?
Wrap the baby so the cup will not be knocked and support the baby in an upright sitting position.
Fill the 30 cc medicine cup at least half full with breastmilk or formula.
Place the brim of the cup at the outer corners of the upper lip, resting gently on the lower lip with the tongue inside the cup. (Some term infants may prefer their tongue under the lip of the cup.)
Tip the cup so the milk is just touching the baby's lips. Do not pour the milk into the baby's mouth. The infant usually laps the milk, or may sip it.
Allow time for the infant to swallow.
Let the infant pace the feedings, but limit the length of the feeding to approximately 30 minutes to minimize fatigue. Stop to burp from time to time.
Leave the cup in position during the feed; that is, while the baby rests, do not move the cup from this position.
Do not attempt to cup feed an infant who is not alert or who is excessively sleepy.
What if I need to express milk for a premature baby?
It is important to start expressing your milk as soon as possible after delivery.
In order to ensure that you produce plenty of milk, you will need to express at least six to eight times in 24 hours, including during the night.
Ask the hospital staff about holding your baby in skin-to-skin contact. This can help with bonding and keeping up your milk supply.
What should I feed my baby and when?
From birth to six months
You should try to exclusively breastfeed your baby for the first six months (26 weeks) of its life, as breastmilk has all the nutrients he will need during this time.
At six months
From about six months, your baby is able to eat solid food. At this point, he will need more than breastmilk alone can provide. You will need to wean your baby around this time – introducing a range of 'non-milk' foods gradually, until your baby is eating the same foods as the rest of the family.
From six months to one year
Babies need breastmilk alongside solid food from six months until they are at least one year old. If you are not breastfeeding, you should continue to give your baby infant formula milk. Cows' milk, as a drink, is not suitable for babies under one year, although it can be used in cooking. As your baby eats more solid foods, the amount of breastmilk he wants will decrease. Once he is eating solid food three times a day, you may find he wants to breastfeed less often.
One year plus
After one year, babies can continue to breastfeed, or change to drinking whole cows' milk. You can continue to breastfeed for as long as it suits you and your baby, and it will continue to have benefits for both of you.