Should I breastfeed or formula-feed my baby?
It is up to you, and you do not have to choose one or the other. It is possible to breastfeed/chestfeed and formula-feed your baby if you wish to. This is known as combination feeding, or mixed feeding.
Health experts agree that breastfeeding is the healthiest option for your baby. The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding exclusively (breast milk only) for the first 6 months before starting on solid foods, and then for a further 2 years as well as solids, or for as long as you and your baby want to carry on for.
Here are just some of the benefits of breastfeeding for your baby.
- It gives them all the nutrition they need in their first 6 months.
- It has special antibodies that helps reduce their risk of getting infections, both now and in the future.
- It reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- It reduces their risk of diarrhoea and vomiting.
- It helps lower their risk of obesity or heart disease in later life.
Breastfeeding has benefits for you, too.
- It is free and easily available when you are out and about.
- There is no need to sterilise bottles and feeding equipment.
- It releases oxytocin, known as the ‘love hormone’, which helps you feel calmer and bond with your baby.
- It helps your womb return to its pre-pregnancy size after the birth of your baby.
- It lowers your risk of obesity, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, weak bones (osteoporosis) and cardiovascular disease.
Giving your baby any amount of breast milk has a positive effect, so it is worth trying, if you can. The longer you breastfeed for, the longer the protection lasts and the greater the benefits for you and your baby.
Deciding not to or stopping breastfeeding
There are many reasons why parents decide not to breastfeed, or choose to stop after a short time.
Breastfeeding does not always come naturally and many people have problems, such as getting their baby latched correctly. Try to get support early if you are having problems but want to carry on breastfeeding. Your midwife or health visitor is there to help you find the best way forward. You should also be given details of local support groups or feeding drop-in clinics, after your baby’s birth, if you want to speak to someone between appointments.
Find out more about breastfeeding and how to cope with common problems.
If you do decide to stop, there is no need to feel guilty. It is your right to decide how to feed your baby.
How can I tell if my baby is hungry?
Your baby has lots of little cues that let you know when they are hungry. Do not worry if you cannot spot them at first – it takes each new parent a while to get to know their baby’s unique feeding cues.
Here are some of the signs that your newborn may need a feed:
- being wriggly and restless
- sucking their fist or fingers
- moving their eyes around
- opening and closing their mouth
- turning their head and opening their mouth (known as rooting).
Crying can also be a sign of hunger. But looking out for the other signs, and feeding a baby before they cry, is much easier than waiting until they are upset.
How often should I feed my baby?
Feeding in response to your newborn baby’s hunger cues is called feeding on demand, or responsive feeding. It is much easier to do this than to stick to a rigid schedule of feeds. Your baby has a tiny stomach when they are born (the size of a marble) so you need to feed them little and often at first. If you are breastfeeding this helps to start and keep your milk production.
In their first few days, most newborn babies need lots of feeds. This often means leaving just a couple of hours between the start of one feed and the start of their next feed. As they get bigger, they will begin to have longer and fewer feeds, and there’ll be more time between feeds. Your baby’s feeds may settle into some kind of routine over time. But many parents find that growth spurts, teething and illness can throw any routine off course.
Some days and nights it may feel like you are doing almost nothing besides feeding your baby. Try not to worry – these times will pass. If you express your breast milk, or formula feed, ask a loved one to take over from time to time.
How do I wind (burp) my baby?
Some babies find it easy to burp, while others will need to be winded, or burped, with every feed. During feeding, babies swallow tiny air bubbles that can get trapped in their tummy and cause discomfort. Whether you burp your little one during or after a feed is up to you. They may even enjoy a few burps during feeding.
Your baby will give you a clue as to when to wind them. If they break off from feeding, cry a little, arch their back or draw their legs up to their tummy, they may have trapped wind.
There are lots of positions that can help a baby burp. Try one of these:
- Holding your baby against your chest, with their chin on your shoulder, gently rub and pat their back.
- Sitting your baby on your lap, with their head and neck supported with one hand, rub their back with your free hand.
- Lying your baby tummy facing down across your lap, support their chin and rub or pat their back.
- Lying them on their back, gently cycle their legs or rub their tummy.
Ask your health visitor for advice if your baby suffers from trapped wind, and none of these methods seem to help.
How do I cope with night feeds?
Your baby will need feeding at night for at least the first few months of life. As a new parent this can be exhausting, even more so if you are not getting much sleep between feeds.
It is vital to feed your newborn through the night. Their tummy is tiny in these early weeks and months, so they need a lot of feeding. Try to think of night feeds as part of building the connection with your baby. This quiet time with just the two of you can be a soothing way to bond.
That said, being sleep deprived can be hard to cope with. If you struggle to stay awake, or begin to resent getting up for the night feeds, you may need extra help. Ask your partner or a loved one to take over a late-night or first-thing feed while you go to bed early or get up a little later. Put off any housework or tasks during the daytime and if you can sleep when your baby sleeps. Talking to other new parents, to learn how they cope with night feeds or just to feel less alone, can also help.
Try to keep in mind that this is just a phase in your life as a parent. By the time your baby is around 6 months old, they are likely to need fewer feeds at night, with some babies even sleeping right through the night.
Your breasts change a lot during and after pregnancy, so you should check them often and be aware of any changes. This is called breast awareness. It’s important because some breast changes might be a sign of breast cancer.
Together with Tommy's, CoppaFeel! has produced a new resource for women and pregnant people about natural breast changes, during and after pregnancy. It contains tips on how to check your breasts and tells you what to do if you notice any changes. Find out more about your breasts during and after pregnancy.