The Department of Health and healthcare professionals recommend that you breastfeed your baby exclusively for the first six months, if you can. This is because of the numerous health benefits, throughout their lives (long after breastfeeding finishes), that have been reported for babies who are breastfed.
Although we have not all been brought up to see breastfeeding around us on a day-to-day basis, breastfeeding is a skill that every new mum can learn. However, it takes practice and an understanding of how breastfeeding works. Some lucky mums find it really easy, others will find it hard, but most are somewhere in between.
There is much more to breast milk and breastfeeding than simply getting nutrients into your baby. Breast milk contains hundreds of ingredients that provide perfect nutrition for your baby as well as support for their immature immune system, but it’s also a great way for you to bond with your baby.
The benefits of breast milk
Studies of breast milk have found that breastfed babies are significantly less likely to suffer with gastroenteritis, which is a severe tummy upset. Exclusively breastfed babies also suffer less with chest infections. Breast milk also provides protection for babies with a strong family history of allergies and eczema from developing those problems themselves. So, new parents with a strong family history of allergies and eczema are recommended to exclusively breastfeed a new baby for the first six months if they can.
Similarly, if your baby is born prematurely or poorly, the nursing staff in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) will strongly recommend that you try to breastfeed or express breast milk for your baby to help promote his health. The colostrum that you produce at first coats the lining of his gut with antibodies. This can really help baby’s immature gut and protect him from ‘necrotising enterocolitis’, which is a very nasty and dangerous infection.
The benefits of breastfeeding
Breastfeeding itself is also a lovely way to bond with your baby. The hormones that mums produce when they are breastfeeding seem to really help them to tune into their baby and produce a fast track to a very close bond. The good news is that if you are bottle feeding your baby you can also feed them in a similar way to help promote the lovely close bond with your baby.
What are the pros and cons of breastfeeding?
The pros of breastfeeding
Breastfeeding your baby provides him with optimal and free nutrition. Although you may need to buy a couple of nursing bras and possibly a feeding pillow, being able to feed your baby for free for his first six months is a real saving in both time and money.
Another big pro with breastfeeding is that you don’t need any equipment. You can feed your baby any time, any place and know he can always have a feed when he needs it.
Being able to feed your baby easily and quickly is particularly beneficial at night-time and helps make night-time feeding less disruptive to your sleep. In addition, breastfeeding mothers produce lots of oxytocin, which promotes their sleep as well as bonding.
The cons of breastfeeding – and how to overcome them!
Some mums say one of the downsides of breastfeeding is that you are the only person who can feed your baby. While this might be fine most of the time there may be occasions when you’ve been invited to an event or you feel poorly and it would be more convenient if somebody else could give your baby a bottle. However, if you express and freeze your breast milk you will also have the flexibility to give your baby a bottle if needs be.
Some mums and dads also worry that the dad will not get the opportunity to bond with their baby if they don’t have the chance to feed them. However, dads have been bonding with their babies for thousands of years without the need of the bottle. And of course they can always give a bottle full of expressed breast milk. So there’s no need for them to miss out!
There are lots of health, practical and emotional factors to consider around breastfeeding. In the end, you will need to decide how you would like to feed your baby.