Benefits of breastfeeding

Your breastmilk is the only food specifically 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.

The World Health Organisation recommends that babies are fed on breastmilk on its own for around the first six months of life and then after solids are introduced that breastfeeding continues fir two years or longer. Any breastfeeding is better than none at all. It is well worth breastfeeding even for a short time as every dat makes a difference to your baby and you. The longer you breastfeed, the longer the protection lasts. Formula milk cannot provide your baby with the same ingredients or give the same protection.

First breastfeeds

The first milk you produce in the days after your baby’s birth is colostrum. This is a yellow, concentrated milk you produce in small amounts. It contains nutrition and antibodies that protect your baby against infection. Even if you don’t continue breastfeeding, your baby will receive some benefit from one breastfeed.

How breast milk benefits your baby

Antibodies in breast milk stimulate your baby’s immune system and help protect them from infection and other illnesses including:

  • stomach infections, vomiting and diarrhoea
  • ear and chest infections
  • kidney infections
  • cow's milk allergy, asthma and eczema
  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • childhood diabetes
  • childhood obesity

Breast milk changes as your baby grows so they get what they need to develop. Breastfeeding helps the development of your baby’s eyesight. Their sucking action at your breast also helps their jaw and mouth development.

Benefits of breastfeeding for children and adults

Breastfed babies benefit from better mental development than babies fed on formula milk. This protection can last for years. The longer you breastfeed, the greater the health benefits for your child later in life. Children and adults breastfed as babies are less likely to have:

  • obesity
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease

Breastfeeding a baby for at least six months

Giving your baby breast milk exclusively for their first six months is the healthiest start to their life. After six months, you can continue to breastfeed and give certain foods and drinks for as long as you and your baby like.

Disadvantages of bottle feeding formula milk

Formula milk is made from cow’s milk. It doesn’t have the important immune factors or nutrients that breast milk has. Sometimes a baby’s immune system reacts negatively to infant formula milk.

Bottle fed babies are at increased risk of:

  • ear, chest and kidney infections
  • gastroenteritis (severe inflammation or infection of the stomach or gut)
  • eczema and asthma
  • childhood obesity
  • childhood leukaemia
  • childhood diabetes
  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Benefits of breast milk for sick or premature babies

Sick or premature babies need breast milk to help them fight serious health conditions.

Benefits for the mother

Breastfeeding is good for the mother’s health and wellbeing. The longer you breastfeed, the stronger the protection against serious illness later in life. Breastfeeding mothers are at lower risk of:

  • breast cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • osteoporosis (bone thinning)
  • type 2 diabetes
  • endometriosis

Breastfeeding also helps you regain your pre-pregnancy weight more easily.

There are other benefits to breastfeeding:

  • it’s free: you don’t need formula milk, bottles, teats or sterilising equipment
  • breast milk is always available, with the right ingredients at the right temperature, so it’s easier to feed at night or on the go
  • breastfeeding forms a bond between mother and child as you see your baby grow and develop healthily
  • it’s environmentally friendly because there’s no manufacturing, pollution, packaging or waste

Breastfeeding Locations