Breast feeding

breast feeding

Breast milk is the best nutrition for babies. The World Health Organization recommends that babies are fed only breast milk for their first six months, and that breast-feeding then be continued as part of a mixed diet until the age of two years. Breast-feeding provides many health benefits for both baby and mother. A vitamin D supplement is recommended for all breast-feeding women and for breast-fed babies.

Nearly every woman can breast-feed. It doesn't matter whether you have small or large breasts, or even if you have inverted nipples. The breast tissue is designed to make enough breast milk for your baby. If you have twins, it is perfectly possible to make enough milk for both babies.

As with many things, it is something to be learnt. There are many benefits to breast-feeding.

What are the benefits of breast-feeding for the baby?

Breast milk is the ultimate first baby food. It is specially produced by a mother for her own baby. The breast milk composition changes day by day and feed by feed, to meet the baby's ever-changing needs. As such, it has the perfect combination of proteins, fats, carbohydrate, and fluids that newborn babies require. Formula milk can never quite match this perfect recipe. No other fluids (such as water) are needed for a breast-fed baby. Even in the hottest weather, the breast milk composition changes, to provide everything your baby needs. Even when your baby is unwell, for example, if he has diarrhea, you should continue to breast-feed. Even if your baby is premature, or unwell and in hospital, breast milk is still best for your baby. Just one single formula feed in a previously breast-fed infant can sensitize his gut to the proteins in cows' milk. In some cases this may cause intolerances and allergies to these proteins.

No mistakes

If you breast-feed, it is impossible to make any mistakes with the milk your baby receives.There is the possibility of human error when making up bottles of formula

Breast-feeding reduces the risk of developing infection

On average, breast-fed babies have fewer infections in their early life. The main reason for this is that antibodies are passed in the breast milk from mother to baby. Breast-fed babies have fewer diarrheas and vomiting, and fewer chest and ear infections, compared with babies who are not breast-fed.

Breast-feeding reduces the risk of cot death

There is good evidence that sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) - also known as cot death - is less common in breast-fed babies.

Developmental and emotional factors and bonding

Childhood intelligence tests are better in children who had been breast-fed compared with those who had been bottle-fed. Those born at full term and breast-fed for at least the first four weeks of life, do better in tests of reading, writing and maths - and this effect extends into the secondary school years. Babies who were full term at birth and breast-fed, had fewer behavioural problems at five years.

It is thought that breast-feeding enhances the bonding process between baby and mother. Your baby needs to feel safe, secure and warm. Being cuddled naked, against the mother's bare skin (covered with a blanket or towel) for as long as possible, is important. Putting the newborn baby straight to the breast for a feed is ideal.

Other benefits

Breast-fed babies are less likely to become constipated. They also tend to be less fussy when it comes to new foods at weaning. Breast milk appears to help loosen a newborn baby's mucus. It also acts as a laxative and helps with the passage of the first stools.

What are the benefits of breast-feeding for the mother?

Advantages to health

The following health problems are less common in women who have breast-fed one or more babies compared with those who have never breast-fed: breast cancer; ovarian cancer; type 2 diabetes; postnatal depression.

It is also suggested that six months' breast-feeding may lower the risk of developing high blood pressure (hypertension) in later life. Another health benefit for some mothers is that it is easier to lose weight after giving birth if you are breast-feeding.


Breast-feeding is the most convenient method of feeding. There is no preparation time, and it is always available. This can be a real benefit when you are tired and woken in the middle of the night to feed your baby.

Early postnatal benefits

Immediate breast-feeding helps to expel the placenta. It also helps to reduce blood loss after birth and to prevent a haemorrhage. Breast-feeding helps your uterus to involute in the days following birth. It can also help you relax and bond with your baby. This is because a special hormone (chemical) called oxytocin is released into the body from the brain when you breast-feed.

The very first milk produced is called colostrum. It is a yellow, sticky substance. It is rich in antibodies and high in proteins, vitamins and minerals, in a very concentrated form. A newborn baby has a tiny stomach that can hold about a teaspoonful of milk. So, even though there is only a small amount of colostrum, it is enough for the baby in the early days, until the milk supply comes in. Even one feed of colostrum is valuable for both baby and mother's health.

Your baby receives a more watery foremilk when he starts a breast-feed. This quenches his thirst. As a breast-feed continues, the later milk (or hindmilk) is richer in fats. The hindmilk fills your baby up. The hindmilk contains more energy and nutrition needed for your baby to grow and thrive. It is therefore important that the baby finishes on one breast before being offered the second (otherwise he'd only get two lots of foremilk).

Some common problems with breast-feeding

Breast-feeding should not be painful. You may need or wish to speak to your doctor. What you do not want is to end up becoming stressed and dreading feeds, as this emotional factor will adversely affect your milk supply and make breast-feeding even more difficult.

Breast discomfort and pain

A normal full breast can be tender. In particular, breast engorgement can occur on days 2-7 after birth when milk comes in. If milk is not removed by a feeding baby then milk production will soon stop.The best way to minimise pain and engorgement is to give your baby frequent feeds.

Sore nipples

The most common cause of this is excess suction. It is caused by a baby that has not latched on well. The baby needs a large mouthful of breast and areola, as well as the nipple. If the baby is held so that just the nipple is in their mouth, then sore nipples are more likely to develop.

A blocked milk duct

A blocked milk duct can cause a painful swollen area in a breast. The overlying skin is sometimes red and inflamed, but not as intense as with mastitis. When you feed the baby, the pain may increase due to the pressure of milk building up behind the blocked duct. A blocked milk duct will usually clear within 1-2 days and symptoms will then go. It may clear more quickly by feeding the baby more often from the affected breast and gently massaging the breast whilst feeding.


Mastitis is an infection of the breast. Bacteria sometimes get into the milk ducts of the breast to cause the infection. This is often through a crack or sore in the nipple.Mastitis causes an area of hardness, pain, redness and swelling in the breast. It often starts in a section of breast near to the nipple. You may also develop a fever (high temperature) and feel unwell.
Mastitis is usually treated with a course of antibiotics. However, a mild case may go without any treatment. If you notice a tender swollen area in a breast when you are breast-feeding, it may be a blocked milk duct or developing mastitis. If symptoms become worse then see your doctor.

It is still OK to feed from the breast with mastitis, as long as it is not too uncomfortable. Feeding from an infected breast does not harm the baby. (Any bacteria swallowed will be killed by the acid in the baby's stomach).

Diet, vitamin D and breast-feeding

A normal healthy balanced diet is advised for breast-feeding mothers. Breast-feeding can make you thirsty, so make sure you drink plenty of fluids, including water. You don't need to drink milk in order to make milk (although it is a good source of calcium). Breast-feeding uses up approximately 500 calories per day, so it can help you lose weight. You may find that it makes you hungry, so try to eat healthy snacks that release energy slowly (like nuts, cereal bars, bananas, etc).In addition, a vitamin D supplement is recommended for all breast-feeding women and for breast-fed babies.

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