Should you need urgent health advice please contact your GP or call NHS 111. In an emergency please visit A&E or call 999

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Introduction to breastfeeding

Department of Health guidance says that breastfeeding is the healthiest way to feed your baby. Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first 6 months of your baby’s life.

Breast milk:

  • Is always available at the right temperature and is sterile
  • Can be used to comfort your baby and relieve pain
  • Is free
  • has no carbon footprint
  • Is the most natural food for babies


  • Concentrated milk produced in the first few days, tailored to baby in small amounts.
  • Gives your baby immunity. It is protective and coats the intestines/gut to fence germs out so they cannot be absorbed into your baby’s system. This barrier seals your baby’s insides, preparing your baby for a healthy life.
  • Kills harmful microorganisms and provides protection from inflammation.
  • Is a laxative, and will help clear your baby’s system of the meconium and therefore help to reduce jaundice.
  • ‘Mature’ milk production increases after the first few days.
  • Your babies stomach capacity is quite small and breastmilk is easily digestible, meaning that your baby will probably feed frequently in the early weeks of breastfeeding.

Hormonal Influence:

There are three key factors that work together in breastfeeding:


  • Following delivery, your levels of pregnancy hormones decline. This causes levels of the milk producing hormone, prolactin, to rise.
  • Prolactin levels peak every time your baby sucks or nuzzles at the breast.
  • Lots of peaks in prolactin levels in the early days “switch on” milk producing cells – one of the reasons why newborn babies feed frequently/cluster feed –they are “putting the order in”!
  • Overnight, your prolactin levels – the hormone designed to support milk production – are at their highest. So, when your baby feeds frequently at night, the message to your body to boost milk supply is even stronger.


  • Oxytocin is also known as the love hormone – it helps you to fall in love with your baby and want to hold, stroke and protect them.
  • It causes the lobules in the breasts to contract, letting down the milk to the baby (the let down).
  • It can be delayed by stress – this can be overcome by relaxed, skin-to-skin time at the breast.
  • Additionally, oxytocin increases circulation to the breast, helping to release stored nutrients into the milk, and warm baby.

Feedback Inhibitor of Lactation (FIL)

  • This is a protein within the milk which alerts the milk producing cells to stop producing milk.
  • It helps control and regulate the supply.
  • As milk is removed, levels of FIL fall.
  • Milk removal drives milk production.

Formula feeding increases the risk of:

For children:

  • Raised blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
  • Raised cholesterol levels
  • Childhood leukemias
  • Type 1 and 2 diabetes
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Necrotising enterocolitis & late onset sepsis in preterm babies
  • Gastro-intestinal infections
  • Ear infections
  • Respiratory infections

For parents:

  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Osteoporosis
  • Postnatal depression
  • Hip fractures and reduced bone density
  • Maternal type 2 diabetes
ChatHealth Logo

South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust runs a confidential secure text messaging service for parents of children aged 0-5 years called ChatHealth. The service operates Monday to Friday between 9am and 4pm, excluding bank holidays. All texts will be responded to by a health visitor within 24 hours. Outside of the service working hours, you’ll receive a message back to inform you that your text will be responded to once the service reopens.

Should you require urgent health advice in the meantime, please contact your GP, visit an NHS walk-in centre or call NHS 111. For emergencies, dial 999 or visit A&E.

This page was last reviewed on 15-12-2021

This page will be next reviewed on 15-12-2024