Breast milk is nature’s perfect food for babies. It has just the right proportion and types of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, along with almost all of the vitamins and minerals that a baby needs in the first six months of life.

Many studies have confirmed the benefits of breastfeeding such as protecting your baby from common childhood infections, reducing your baby’s risk of allergies and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) as well as reducing your stress levels and risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

So anything you can do to prepare for breastfeeding while you are pregnant is great. While for some new mums it comes easily, others find it challenging. It is normal to feel overwhelmed and even scared about the thought of breastfeeding.

Whether you think about it or not, your pregnant body is preparing itself for breastfeeding. That’s one reason your breasts get so much bigger during pregnancy. Your milk ducts and milk-producing cells are developing, and more blood goes to your breasts than before.

Even some of the weight you put on during pregnancy is fat the body is storing so that it can get the calories needed to produce breastmilk when required.

A few reasons to breastfeed your baby:

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends it

Human milk is the preferred feeding for all infants, including premature and sick newborns… It is recommended that breastfeeding continue for at least the first 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mutually desired.

(See A.A.P. Breastfeeding Policy Statement: Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk (RE9729))

  • Breastfeeding promotes bonding between mother and baby

Breastfeeding stimulates the release of the hormone oxytocin in the mother’s body.

It is now well established that oxytocin, as well as stimulating uterine contractions and milk ejection, promotes the development of maternal behavior and also bonding between mother and offspring.

Uvnas-Moberg, Eriksson: Breastfeeding: physiological, endocrine and behavioral adaptations caused by oxytocin and local neurogenic activity in the nipple and mammary gland.: Acta Paediatrica, 1996 May, 85(5):525-30

  • Breastfeeding satisfies baby’s emotional needs
  • Breast milk provides perfect infant nutrition

Human milk is uniquely superior for infant feeding and is species-specific; all substitute feeding options differ markedly from it. The breastfed infant is the reference or normative model against which all alternative feeding methods must be measured with regard to growth, health, development, and all other short and long-term benefits.

(See A.A.P. Breastfeeding Policy Statement: Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk (RE9729))

  • The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend it

…breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; … it forms a unique biological and emotional basis for the health of both mother and child; …the anti-infective properties of breast milk help to protect infants against disease; and … there is an important relationship between breastfeeding and child spacing. (Emphasis added)

(See The WHO/UNICEF International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes).

  • Breast milk lowers risk of baby developing asthma

Breastfed babies have lower risk for developing recurrent wheezing when they are older (age 6 or more). Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Med., July 1995

  • Not breastfeeding increases mother’s risk of breast cancer

If all women who do not breastfeed or who breastfeed for less than 3 months were to do so for 4 to 12 months, breast cancer among parous premenopausal women could be reduced by 11 percent, judging from current rates. If all women with children lactated for 24 months or longer, however, then the incidence might be reduced by nearly 25 percent. This reduction would be even greater among women who first lactate at an early age.

Newcomb PA, Storer BE, Longnecker MP, et al. Lactation and a reduced risk of premenopausal breast cancer.

N Engl J Med. 1994; 330:81-87

  • Breast milk is always the right temperature

Severe burns to babies’ mouths have occurred due to improper heating of artificial milks.

  • Breast milk always has the right proportions of fat, carbohydrates and protein

Formula companies are constantly adjusting these proportions looking for the best composition. The reality is that a mother’s milk composition changes from feeding to feeding depending on the needs of her child.

These tips could help you start a beautiful breastfeeding journey with your baby:

  • Talk to other mums who are breastfeeding, or have done it before. Female family members can be a treasure trove of practical advice. You may also want to speak to other mums on community forums.
  • Read up us much as you can.
  • Talk to your doctor or if you can, speak to a breastfeeding or lactation consultant.
  • Try to attend antenatal classes where they have sessions on preparing for breastfeeding.
  • Try to find a breastfeeding support group if one exists in your area. If you meet them and speak to them, you will know where to get support if you run into any breastfeeding problems.
  • Try to get in touch with some breastfeeding mums already when you are pregnant. Hearing first-hand experience of breastfeeding might help you to prepare.

The more you know about how breastfeeding works and its benefits the more likely you are to succeed at it.