Choosing how to feed your baby, whether breast or formula feeding, is one of the biggest decisions you will make as a parent.
There are benefits to breastfeeding for both mother and baby, and it‘s recommended that babies are breast fed exclusively for the first six months. Exclusive breastfeeding is giving only breast milk, either directly from the breast or by expressing and giving from a bottle.
Benefits of breastfeeding for mum:
- Reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer
- Lowers risk of Osteoporosis, Diabetes and Cardio Vascular Disease
- It burns calories
- It’s free
- Breast milk is available whenever and wherever your baby needs a feed
- It’s the right temperature
- Breast feeding can build a strong physical and emotional bond between mum and baby
- It can give you a great sense of achievement
Benefits of breastfeeding for baby:
- Breast feeding reduces risk of infections, including tummy bugs, diarrhoea, colds and ear infections
- Breast milk is specifically tailored to your baby’s needs
- Breast feeding reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) & childhood leukaemia
- Reduced risk of asthma and eczema
- Offers long term health benefits; reducing risk of heart disease, obesity
You can find out more about the benefits of breastfeeding here.
Why not give it a try?
Each mother’s breast feeding journey is individual. Here are some top tips for establishing breast feeding in the early days:
- From 36 weeks you can start to hand express and harvest (collect) colostrum.
This is usually collected in a 1ml syringe and can be useful if you are unable to feed straight away
- Lots of skin to skin contact.
During skin to skin contact, the hormone oxytocin is released which is known to be essential to milk flow
- Follow your baby’s lead.
Don’t wait for them to cry for a feed; if they are rooting, or licking lips, wriggling or stirring, they are getting ready to feed, so it’s a good time to latch at this point rather than wait until your baby is crying
- Let your baby determine their schedule.
Babies recognise their feeding cues and only have small stomachs. Breast feeding works on supply and demand; the more you feed or pump, the more milk your body will produce. The less you feed, the less milk your body produces.
- Remember breast feeding is a learnt skill for both you and your baby.
Guide your baby onto the breast in a position where it is comfortable for you and your baby to maintain throughout the feed. (link to effective attachment article)
- Seek support with breast feeding.
Seek support from the midwives whilst you’re in hospital and your midwife, health visitor and local support groups when at home.
- Keep hydrated.
Always have a drink with you when feeding as this helps with milk production.
- Rest when baby rests.
It’s so important to rest at every opportunity. You will be feeding frequently throughout the night and day so taking naps when you can is essential.
- Eat regularly.
Breast feeding burns calories and you may often be hungry when you’re breast feeding.
Once breast feeding is established, you can choose to mix feed (link to mixed feeding article). This means offering a bottle of either expressed breast milk or formula.
Formula milk is also offered as an alternative to breast milk. It is important to understand that if using formula milk, babies less than one year only require first milk.
All first baby milks have to meet a basic food standard essential for baby milk; anything else added to formula and advertised to be beneficial is not research based or essential. For more information about formulas, see First Steps Nutrition. If you are planning to formula feed, hospitals require you to take your own formula into hospital at the time of delivery.
Whether breast or bottle feeding, it’s recommended that you follow your baby’s feeding cues and feed them responsively.
When offering a bottle, paced feeding is recommended. Paced feeding allows your baby to be in control and regulate their feed, therefore avoiding over feeding.
To begin a paced feed:
- Hold the baby in a more upright position close, and skin to skin if possible, to promote bonding
- Hold the bottle horizontally, filling the teat with milk
- Place the teat under your baby’s nose on their top lip and allow your baby to open their mouth and reach for it
- If your baby is drinking too fast, tilt the bottle down or remove bottle to allow your baby to rest. Never force your baby to finish the bottle
- It’s recommended that you either change sides half way through a feed or with each feed as this is beneficial for hand eye coordination
- The Best Beginnings website has a series of short films about different aspects of breastfeeding, including the first feed after giving birth, breastfeeding in the early days, breastfeeding out and about, overcoming challenges and breastfeeding twins
- Leaflet: Feeding your baby from birth to five
- National Childbirth Trust (NCT) – breastfeeding and antenatal support. Breastfeeding helpline, open every day from 8am – 10pm: 0300 3300 770
- First Steps Nutrition – this site provides more detailed information about UK formula milks, including a simple guide
- Start4Life guide to bottle feeding
- Start4Life- Off to the best start leaflet