Deciding how to feed your baby

Information for each stage of feeding your baby
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Whether you've already decided how to feed your baby or are still making up your mind, this section will help you understand your options.

Your feeding options

However you decide to feed, it's important to know to feed responsively. This means feeding your baby as soon as they show signs they're hungry and allowing them to feed for as long as they want. You never need to worry about 'spoiling' your baby. 

baby feeding options

Whatever your plans are, it's good to know about all the options available to you. Have a read and start thinking about the best feeding option for you, your baby and your family.

Exclusive breastfeeding

Exclusive breastfeeding means feeding your baby breast milk only. This is recommended for the first 6 months, but don't be put off if you can't see yourself breastfeeding this long. Just take each day, week and month as it comes.

exclusive breastfeeding

Why choose to exclusively breastfeed?

The health advantages for you and your baby are at their highest when you exclusively breastfeed for as long as you can. It also gives you a chance to rest and spend time getting to know your baby - and it's completely free! There are many reasons mums choose to breastfeed their babies- you can hear a few in the video below.

Other peoples' opinions

Lots of people have opinions about feeding and you're bound to hear someone say "so and so was bottle fed and they're OK!" Formula feeding is safe, but breast milk is the right milk for human babies - it's got all sorts of important ingredients that can't be copied in formula milk. Over the course of a lifetime there are many things that affect your health, and studies clearly show that people who were breastfed as babies and mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of many illnesses.

Getting your partner involved

Breastfeeding is a lovely bonding experience for you and your baby to share, but that doesn't mean that your partner will feel left out. There is plenty for them to do in the early days, and they can give your baby expressed milk once you've been feeding for a while. Our Supporter Guide for Dads has lots of tips on how they can help.

Expressing your breast milk

Expressing milk, where you collect some of your milk to feed your baby with at another time, can be the best option for many mums.

Expressing your breastmilk

Planning to express your breast milk

There's lots of reasons for expressing breast milk. Some mums don't really like the idea of breastfeeding, some babies are not well enough to feed and some mothers find breastfeeding too difficult. Others choose to do a mixture of breastfeeding and expressing - it's completely up to you. If you already know you'd like to express milk, talk to your midwife and make a note in your feeding plan.​

Building your milk supply

It's a bit easier to get your milk supply going if you breastfeed for the first 2-3 days, and your baby will instinctively look to do this during skin-to-skin contact just after birth. However, if it's not for you then just express from the start. Your baby will still get all the benefits of breast milk from expressed milk, and holding your baby close during feeding makes it a really comforting experience for your baby.

Building a bond with your baby

Try and make sure your baby is only fed by you or your partner at first. This will help make feeding a key time to build a special connection with your newborn.
 
You can find out more about buying or renting a pump, how to express breast milk and watch a video on using an electric breast pump by following the links below.
 

Mixed feeding

Mixed (or combination) feeding means feeding your baby a mix of breast milk and formula.

mixed feeding

Planning to feed your baby a combination of breast and formula milk 

Mums use mixed feeding for lots of reasons. Some are worried about their milk supply, others are planning to go back to work and don't know how or aren't keen to express their own milk.

Concerned about making enough breast milk for your baby?

If you're worried about not producing enough milk you could have a chat with your midwife or health visitor, or go to a breastfeeding support group. Keeping your baby close with skin-to-skin contact or a wrap can help boost your supply, and there's lots of tips and advice on expressing your milk on this website. It's not as scary as it sounds! The video below hears from mums and experts on ways to increase the amount of milk you make.

The health advantages for you and baby are higher if you exclusively breastfeed, but if you're one of the mums who cannot produce enough breast milk then be very proud of the lovely baby you have made and of any milk you do make. Any breastfeeding is better than none at all, you're doing just fine! 

Formula feeding 

To find out more about safely feeding your baby formula, Health Scotland have produced a handy leaflet which you can download via the link below. You can also watch a video on how to safely make up a bottle in our section on "Expressing breast milk in the early days."

Formula feeding

Formula feeding means feeding your baby cow's (or goat's or soya) milk that's specially treated to be suitable for babies.

feeding baby formula

Planning to formula feed

Most mums know that breastfeeding is good for them and their baby, but sometimes still feel that formula/bottle feeding is the best option for them and their family. If you can, do give breastfeeding a try, especially in the first hours and days, but don't worry if breastfeeding doesn't work out for you.

Responsive bottle feeding

Even if you are formula feeding, you should still feed your baby as soon as they show signs that they are hungry, and you can still experience skin-to-skin contact - which is particularly important for calming your baby and building a special bond in the early days. Watch the video below to find out more about feeding your baby in this way (sometimes called responsive, baby-led or on-demand feeding.)

What you need to know about formula milks and bottle feeding

Formula labelled 'first milks' are all you need for your baby's first year. You don't need 'follow on milk' at any stage, and after a year ordinary full fat cows milk is fine. All brands are very similar, and it doesn't matter if you choose cow's or goat's milk for your baby. Talk to your midwife or health visitor before opting for soya-based milk. Watch out for milks claiming added extras, such as preventing allergies, colic or wind. There's no proof that these are needed or that they even work.

Feeding your baby formula milk safely

There are a few things you need to be aware of before you feed your baby formula milk - making up feeds, cleaning and storing bottles must be done in a certain way to avoid your baby getting ill. The video below goes through making up a bottle safely step-by-step.

Building a loving bond with your baby

Your baby will feel most safe and secure if feeds are carried out by you and your partner only for the first few weeks. Maintain eye contact with your baby and invite them to take the teat of the bottle rather than pushing it into their mouth.

Helpful links

All the information you need to know to safely feed your baby formula can be found in Health Scotland's handy booklet below, whilst First Steps Nutrition offers detailed information on the different types off formula available in the UK.
 

Why choose to breastfeed?

Breastfeeding is one of the most important things you can do for your baby's health - and your own health too.

Formula and breastmilk

Key reasons to breastfeed

Breastfeeding is the normal way to feed your baby, providing everything they need for the first 6 months of their life. After 6 months babies need food as well as milk, but breast milk is still important during the first 2 years of your baby's life and beyond.
 
We recommend breastfeeding because the evidence shows that breast milk is far better than formula at stopping babies from getting ill and developing certain health conditions. We also know that exclusive breastfeeding for as long as you can is best not just for babies, but for mums too. There are physical and emotional benefits for you from birth and beyond, and it's also much cheaper and better for the environment.

Why is the first feed of colostrum so important?

The first feed of colostrum lines your baby's tummy for protection against illness and infection, gives them an energy boost and helps them pass meconium - a black, sticky, tar-like substance you should see in your baby's first nappy.​

benefits of the first feed

 Follow the links below to find out more about the advantages of breastfeeding for both you and your baby.

Reasons to breastfeed for baby

Research shows that the effects of breastfeeding your baby last well into childhood and beyond.

benefits of breastfeeding

Why is breast milk so good for babies?

  • Breastfeeding is a great opportunity for skin-to-skin contact, which is very important for your newborn to build an emotional bond with you. It also keeps your baby warm, calm and comforted - and it steadies their heartbeat.
  • Breast milk changes to meet your baby's needs as they develop, and can respond to their surroundings to protect them from germs and bugs.
  • Beyond the early years, breast milk also improves brain development and your baby's future health by reducing their chances of conditions such as asthma, diabetes and obesity.

Pre-term babies

Breast milk is very important to the health of a sick, small or pre-term baby. For this reason, you may be encouraged to give your baby expressed breast milk during this vulnerable period, though this doesn't mean you have to breastfeed later on if you don't want to. Breast milk is a great source of protection for these babies, who may be recovering from conditions like jaundice. Breastfeeding also encourages better eyesight and brain development in pre-term babies.

Isn't formula just as good?

Formula milk is safe, but unfortunately it doesn't have the extra, active ingredients of breast milk that help protect your baby from illnesses.

 

Reasons to breastfeed for you

Many mums breastfeed to help improve their baby's health, not realising that it actually improves their own health too.

happy mum and baby

What are the advantages for you?

  • There's a lot of evidence that breastfeeding limits your chances of breast and ovarian cancer later on in life, as well as lowering your risk of weak bones.
  • It can help you lose your baby weight by burning up to 500 calories a day. While you're pregnant, your body stores fat for feeding. Using this up will also protect against the long term risks of being overweight e.g. diabetes and heart disease.
  • Mums say that breastfeeding helps them feel really close to their baby.
  • Your breast milk is safely available at the right temperature whenever and wherever your baby is ready for a feed, making it really convenient.
  • Breast milk is, of course, absolutely free and will save you a fortune because it never runs out. As your baby feeds, your body is busy making more milk.

Who else is breastfeeding?

If you decide to breastfeed, you'll be in good company. Lots of mums across Scotland choose to breastfeed to give their children the best start in life. Still, getting the inside story - and some reassurance - from mums who've done it before can really help.

In the pages below you can hear from real breastfeeding mums and read about the challenges faced by a few celebrity mums.

Real Mums

Hear about the experiences of both new and more experienced mums as they talk about breastfeeding their babies.

real mums and babies

All breastfeeding experiences are different

Every mum has their own breastfeeding story to tell. On this page you can hear mums talk about why they made the choice to breastfeed, how they overcome any challenges, found support and how they feel about their breastfeeding experience now.

Why I chose to breastfeed

How I overcome my breastfeeding challenge

How I found support, help and advice

How I feel about my breastfeeding experience now

Breastfeeding celebrities

All mums, even famous ones, need a bit of help to get off to a good start.

Breastfeeding celebs

Whether it's pop stars like Pink and Kimberly Walsh, reality stars Kim and Khloe Kardashian, or supermodels Giselle Bundchen and Miranda Kerr, breastfeeding is the top feeding choice for tons of celebs. We're sure you've seen plenty of photos where celebrity mums somehow manage to take glamorous pictures of themselves during a feed. However, for most mums the reality is pjs at 11am, no make-up and hair piled on top of their heads - and thanks to social media and celebrity mags we know that behind the camera breastfeeding celebs face their share of challenges too.
 
Kim Kardashian has spoken out about dealing with a jealous toddler and the confidence issues stopping her from breastfeeding in public. Kimberly Walsh has also shared her anguish at having to feed colostrum with a syringe to a reluctant newborn in the few first hours. What's important is that both mums overcame these challenges to go on to breastfeed with confidence.

How will I breastfeed?

Everyone's breastfeeding experience is different, so we all need a little guidance at the start. Knowing when to respond to your baby's signs they're hungry, practice and building up your confidence are the keys to successful breastfeeding. You'll find all the info you need for planning to breastfeed in the links below.

My feeding plan

Share your plans with those caring for you during and after the birth.

feeding plan

Feeding choices and birth plans

Mums often write a birth plan about where they want to give birth, who they want to be there and what pain relief they are thinking about. However, they sometimes don't include how they think they'll feed their baby.

newborn breastfed baby

Exclusive breastfeeding

If you've decided you want to exclusively breastfeed your newborn, be sure to put this in your birth plan. Make it clear that you want skin-to-skin contact after birth, and that your goal is to begin breastfeeding within the first hour. Tell whoever is coming with you to the hospital that you want to breastfeed so they can help make sure the hospital staff know.

Undecided

If you've not decided how to feed your baby yet, make this clear in your plan too. Have lots of skin-to-skin contact after birth and if breastfeeding seems right, let it happen. You can talk through your options and any worries you may have with your midwife.

Formula feeding

It's completely up to you how you decide to feed your baby, so if you opt for formula feeding don't feel that you have to provide an explanation. If you are 100% set on formula feeding, you might want to ask in your feeding plan that midwives don't encourage you to breastfeed following birth. It's lovely to give your first bottle feed while making skin-to-skin contact with your baby, as it's a nice way for the two of you to bond.

Expressing

If your baby is not well enough to breastfeed then start expressing your milk as soon as you can. This will help establish a good supply for later on. You might decide you want to feed your baby expressed milk even if you are able breastfeed. It's easier to get a good supply going if you breastfeed for the first few days, but you can always hand express or use a pump if breastfeeding isn't for you. Find out more by reading our section on 'Expressing breast milk in the early days.'

How breastfeeding works

Find out about how your body gets ready to breastfeed.

The basic science of breastfeeding.

As soon as you're pregnant your breasts get ready to produce milk. The blood supply increases, which can make them extra sensitive. You might notice small raised 'spots' on the dark area surrounding the nipple and your breasts will get bigger - make sure to get a bra that fits comfortably. From the middle of your pregnancy, your breasts make concentrated milk (colostrum), which is rich in protective antibodies.

The first hours

Immediately after birth, every mum makes breast milk whether or not her baby ever breastfeeds. Delivering the placenta sets up a hormonal response in your body which 'tells' the breasts to make milk. When you are given your baby to hold, have them undressed, directly next to your skin. Even if you have a caesarean, still aim for skin-to-skin contact with your baby as soon as possible. After a while your baby will show signs of being ready to feed (feeding cues) and your midwife will offer to help you to attach the baby at the breast.

The first days

Two to five days after giving birth, your baby will become hungrier and your body will produce more milk. This might mean that your baby feeds very frequently. The increase of blood and fluid to your breasts will make them fuller and heavier than usual. Don't worry if you feel some discomfort, it should pass in a couple of days.

The first months

As the months go on you'll produce as much milk as your baby needs because the body responds to breastfeeding by making more milk. However, you'll only continue producing milk if it's used up - if you stop feeding, your body will stop making the milk. This short video explains how feeding in this way means you will always make the right amount of breast milk for your baby.

You can also encourage milk production by expressing your milk (collecting your breast milk to give to your baby later on). This is a useful solution if your baby is very sleepy, reluctant to feed, pre-term or ill. If you don't breastfeed or express, your milk production gradually stops. Still, it is possible to start producing milk again if you express, or put your baby to the breast often enough.

Meeting your baby for the first time

Meeting your baby for the first time is incredible. Read on to find out more about this once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

Magic hour

The importance of skin-to-skin contact 

Holding your baby, skin-to-skin, on your chest following the first hours after birth will really help you and baby calm, bond and recover from the birth.

The advantages of skin-to-skin contact for you and your newborn

  • Baby is warmer and calmer.
  • Baby can hear your heartbeat.
  • Baby’s heart and breathing rates normalise more quickly.
  • Your milk supply is boosted if you choose to breastfeed.
Most mums that give up breastfeeding in the first week do so because the baby has difficulty attaching. Skin contact following birth will do wonders to prevent this!

The "Magical Hour"

Skin contact after birth has an amazing effect on babies - it's often called the 'magical hour'. Your baby will show 9 different behaviour as they get used to the outside world, memorise your touch and discover the instinct to suckle.

the 9 stages

The first thing you will hear is a short birth cry as your baby's lung's expand, your baby will then hopefully feed from the breast (or bottle) before sleeping. It's worth remembering that any drugs you take during labour may make your baby extra sleepy, so the normal nine stage process may take a bit longer - although most babies feed within 90 minutes after birth. You can find out more about specific behaviours on the dedicated Magical Hour website.

The 9 stages and feeding

In the video below you can see this 'magical hour' for yourself as a newborn wakes, shows signs they're hungry and attaches to their mum's breast for the first time.

If you're not breastfeeding, it's still important to give your baby their first bottle feed with skin-to-skin contact. The first feed is an incredibly close, bonding experience - however you choose to feed your baby. In the video below you can hear new mums speak about the wonderful feeling of holding and feeding their newborn babies for the first time

Read on to find out more about why and how mums breastfeed and what to expect in the first few days.