The oligosaccharides found naturally in breast milk are special carbohydrates that can encourage the growth of friendly bacteria in the digestive system. A healthy level of these good bacteria can help prevent potentially harmful bacteria attaching to the wall of the stomach, supporting your baby's natural defences from the inside.
Your baby needs a continuous supply of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPs) which are provided by your breast milk from birth. LCPs are important for the development of their brain, eyes and nervous system, which grow fast. So make sure you continue to eat foods such as oily fish, which are rich in LCPs.
Believe it or not, your milk production will adapt to your baby's needs – the more often you feed, the more milk you will produce. The complex composition of your breast milk constantly changes to meet their developing nutritional requirements too.
Breastfeeding helps bonding
Another benefit of breastfeeding is that it helps cement the connection between mother and child. Holding your baby while they're feeding provides intimacy through skin-to-skin contact. This closeness comforts your baby whilst helping to regulate their heart beat and body temperature.
Health benefits for you too
Breastfeeding has health benefits for mums as well. One study suggested there could be a beneficial effect on postpartum weight loss for women who breastfeed beyond six months1. Although more research is needed in this area, we know that breastfeeding naturally uses up to 500 calories a day2.
Breastfeeding can also delay the return of your menstrual cycle, which will help maintain your iron status. You’re also less likely to get pregnant if you’re nursing at least every four hours, although this is not considered an effective method of contraception.
Recent studies have found that breastfeeding has a number of other long-term advantages for mums. It's said to improve the metabolism and reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer3. Some evidence suggests that extended breastfeeding may also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes4. The benefits are dose related, which means that the more exclusively and the longer you breastfeed, the higher the overall benefits.