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:
- pneumonia and bronchiolitis
- ear infections
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 cholesterol levels
- were less likely to become obese
- were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes
- protect against ovarian cancer before the menopause
- reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes
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.
Read how to prepare for breastfeeding, and encourage your partner to learn about it too, so he's ready to support you.