The value of breastfeeding

Breastfeeding provides everything your baby needs to grow and develop. Your milk is perfect and uniquely made for your growing baby’s needs. Giving your milk to your baby makes a big difference to both you and your baby’s health now and in the future.

Babies who are not breastfed have an increased chance of:

  • diarrhoea and vomiting
  • chest, ear and urine infections
  • allergies such as asthma and eczema
  • diabetes and other illnesses later in life
  • obesity

Breastfeeding helps mothers to: 

  • reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer
  • have stronger bones for later life
  • lose weight faster after giving birth
  • save money and time

If your baby was born prematurely, breastmilk is the ideal means of providing nutrients to help your baby grow whilst protecting them against potentially serious infections.

Protecting your baby on a daily basis: a mother will use her own immune system to protect herself from infections and viruses within her immediate environment. When breastfeeding, she transfers this immunity into the milk she gives to her baby, thereby protecting them on a continuous basis.

Getting breastfeeding off to a good start

Holding your baby in skin to skin contact after birth and allowing them to spend time licking and nuzzling at your breast will help your baby instinctively ‘learn’ how to breastfeed. Your midwife will help you hold your baby in a way that will make it easier for them to feed effectively. This is important for both you and your baby as it will prevent you getting sore and will make sure your baby gets enough milk to help them grow. The more feeds your baby has, the more milk you will make. In the early days, your baby may feed very often, particularly in the evening time. Although this can be challenging for you, it is normal for babies to do this as it sets up your milk supply for the future.

Responsive breastfeeding

Because breastfeeding is about much more than just providing food for your baby, the term ‘responsive feeding’ is used to describe how you can feed your baby in response to early cues (sucking fingers, mouthing or general restlessness), to comfort them if they seem lonely or upset, or if either of you just wants a cuddle and to spend some time together. Try to think about breastfeeding as an opportunity for you to take time out and rest. You can’t overfeed or spoil a breastfed baby.

Expressing your milk

Your midwife will show you how to express your milk by hand. Although you may never need to do this, it is useful to know how as it can help you to soften your breasts if they become full, or if you get any red lumpy areas (a sign that one of your milk ducts may have become blocked). The milk can be expressed into a sterile bottle, covered securely and kept in the back of the fridge (never in the door) at four degrees or lower for up to five days. You can freeze breast milk for two weeks in the freezer compartment of the fridge or for up to six months in a freezer. Defrost frozen milk in a fridge, once thawed use straight away. Never refreeze. If your baby prefers, you can warm the milk up to body temperature before feeding. Never heat the milk in the microwave as it can cause hot spots which can burn your baby’s mouth.

Winding and posseting

Babies who are breastfed do not usually need to be winded. Sometimes babies will bring up a mouthful of milk during or just after a feed. This is called posseting and is not unusual. If you are concerned that your baby is vomiting an excessive amount please contact your midwife or doctor.


Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months of an infant’s life, as it provides all the nutrients a baby needs. Six months is the recommended age for introducing solids. When weaning your baby, carry on breastfeeding beyond the six months.

General principles of breastfeeding

  • Hold your baby in skin to skin contact
  • Feed your baby as soon as possible after the birth
  • Give only breastmilk
  • Keep your baby close so you can pick up on early cues
  • Breastfeed responsively
  • Seek help if breastfeeding is painful
  • Allow your baby to come off the breast by themselves and always offer your other breast although your baby may not always take this
  • Avoid introducing a teat or dummy while your baby is learning to breastfeed
  • Consider joining a local breastfeeding support group

Helping your baby to breastfeed (positioning)

  • Cuddle your baby as much as possible in skin contact
  • Keep your baby calm by talking and stroking them gently
  • Hold your baby with head and body in a straight line so that they aren’t twisted
  • Look out for feeding cues
  • Position your baby’s nose to your nipple
  • Encourage your baby to open their mouth by gently stroking your nipple above their top lip
  • Make sure your baby’s head is free so that they can tilt their head back as they take your breast into their mouth
  • Their bottom lip should make contact with your breast about 2.5cm away from the nipple
  • Express a little milk to tempt your baby

Close – baby has easy access to your breast
Head free – they can tilt their head back as they take your breast
In line – they aren’t twisted which would make feeding difficult
Nose to nipple – as they tilt their head your nipple will go to the back of their mouth

You will know your baby is ‘attached’ when:

  • It doesn’t hurt although the first few sucks may feel strong or uncomfortable
  • Their chin will be firmly touching your breast
  • Their cheeks stay rounded during sucking
  • If you can see dark skin around your nipple you should see more above your baby’s top lip
  • Your baby will take long sucks and swallows with the occasional pause