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Why breastfeed? Benefits of breastfeeding

Read about the advantages and benefits of breastfeeding for mother and baby. Information about nutrition and baby instincts including rooting and seeking skin-to-skin contact

A newborn's instincts to breastfeed are particularly strong after birth. Cuddling your newborn on your chest skin-to-skin (that’s when your skin and your baby’s skin are touching without clothes, towels or blankets in the way) can help your newborn start to breastfeed. Your baby feeding at the breast (or suckling) will send signals to your breasts to produce milk: the more your baby feeds at the breast, the more milk you will make.

Skin-to-skin and your baby's instincts

You may both want to watch and wait awhile, cuddling skin-to-skin, but after some time your newborn may make hand movements and then start ‘rooting’ (turning toward your nipple and opening her mouth). You may like to help her find your nipple. If you have a caesarean, your midwife can still help you have skin-to-skin contact and then a breastfeed. Many babies are ready to feed in the first hour but not all are. If you had painkillers, such as pethidine or an epidural during labour, your baby may be more sleepy and unsure of what to do.

If you cuddle your newborn or keep her close to you, you will know when she seems interested in feeding. In the first day or two, some babies only feed occasionally while others want to feed frequently. A good feed at this time may only be equal to a couple of teaspoonfuls of colostrum.

There are lots of advantages to breastfeeding. Here are some of the reasons why it is considered to be important for mums and babies:

Breastfeeding benefits for babies

  • Breastmilk is a living fluid and every mum’s milk is tailor-made for her own baby. It contains many ingredients which help a baby stay healthy, such as antibodies to fight germs and hormones that help your baby’s development.
  • Babies who are breastfed are less likely to have ear or urine infections or get stomach bugs or chest infections.
  • Babies who are breastfed are less likely to become overweight children.
  • If your family has allergies, your baby is less likely to get eczema or a wheezy chest if they are breastfed.
  • Fewer babies who are breastfed get diabetes in childhood.
  • Premature babies who receive breastmilk have a lower risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (a potentially dangerous bowel disorder).

Breastfeeding benefits for mothers

  • Breastfeeding helps reduce the risk of developing certain types of ovarian and breast cancer.
  • Mums who have breastfed have a lower risk of diabetes when they get older.
  • Breastfeeding helps your uterus return to its normal size after birth.

For everyone

  • Breastfeeding doesn't have an impact on the environment.

Get the support you need

Newborn babies have instincts that help them to breastfeed and mums have instincts too – but in the UK, many women become parents without ever having seen breastfeeding first hand, and feel uncertain about what to do. That's why when you are learning to breastfeed, you may need support and information. You can find articles on our website about breastfeeding straight after birth, getting your baby attached correctly at your breast, common concerns and how friends and family, your partner and employers can support you.

Further information

 NCT supports all parents, however they feed their baby. If you have questions, concerns or need support, you can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor by calling our helpline on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk. Breastfeeding counsellors have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising and will offer relevant information and suggestions. You can also find more useful articles here.

National Breastfeeding Line (government funded): 0300 100 0212