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Breastfeeding for beginners - Part 1

If you've just started breastfeeding, you're doing the right thing for you and your baby. But if breastfeeding doesn't come naturally at first, don't worry. Plenty of new mums and babies have to practise and persevere until they get the hang of it.

Is it true that breast is best?
Yes, breastmilk is the best food for your baby. It's the healthiest way to feed her.

Breastmilk is a complete food. It contains at least 400 nutrients, as well as hormones and disease-fighting compounds, that aren't present in formula milk. Its nutritional make-up even adjusts to your baby's needs as she grows.

Feeding your baby only breastmilk for up to six months (exclusive breastfeeding) is particularly good for her. It can improve your baby’s cognitive development. So being breastfed could even make her more intelligent.

Babies who are exclusively breastfed from birth are also much less likely to be ill in their first year of life. Being breastfed may help your baby to fend off illnesses such as:

- gastroenteritis
- pneumonia and bronchiolitis
- ear infections
We can't say that exclusive breastfeeding reduces the risk of children ever developing eczema. But babies who are breastfed for any period of time do tend to have lower rates of severe eczema than babies who were always formula-fed. It's also possible that breastfeeding delays when your child first develops eczema.

Breastfeeding helps to build a special bond between you and your baby. And in the long-term, breastfeeding may help your baby to stay healthy. Studies have shown that adults who were breastfed as babies, when compared with those who were formula-fed:
- had lower blood pressure
- had lower cholesterol levels
- were less likely to become obese
- were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes
Breastfeeding is good for you, too, and may help you to lose weight. In the long term, it also helps to:
- lower your risk of breast cancer
- protect against ovarian cancer before the menopause
- reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes
How long will I be breastfeeding for?
The Department of Health recommends that your baby has only breastmilk for the first six months of her life. It also recommends that you carry on breastfeeding after your baby has started on solid foods, until the end of her first year and beyond, if you'd like to.

Continuing to breastfeed while introducing solid foods to your baby may benefit her immune system. She may also be less likely to develop health conditions such as coeliac disease and type 1 diabetes.

Most mums aim to breastfeed for between three months and 12 months, and some choose to breastfeed beyond the first year (extended breastfeeding). A lot depends on your individual circumstances and how you feel about it.
How can I prepare for breastfeeding?
Staying healthy is as much as you can do to prepare your body for breastfeeding. But learning as much as you can about breastfeeding before your baby is born will help you when the time comes.

Read how to prepare for breastfeeding, and encourage your partner to learn about it too, so he's ready to support you.

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