The importance of breastfeeding for emotional well-being by Francesca Entwistle

francesca entwistleRecently, I have had the privilege to take part in a Baby Friendly Initiative hospital assessment and had the chance to talk to new mums about their experiences of having a baby. After thirty years in midwifery it was wonderful to see the midwives starting to chat to the new mums about the things they could do to help them fall in love with their baby and how to respond to their needs, long before they got really upset or started to cry.

Most of us don’t spend much time around babies before we have our own, and when our precious bundle is handed over to us to look after for the next 18 years or so, it can be overwhelming. What do we do? How do we cope? Nothing in my life so far has prepared me for this! How on earth am I going to manage?

Reflecting on my visit, the good news is that there are some very simple foundations, that once laid, will help you get off on the best possible track towards that ultimate goal – a happy baby, and a happy mum. If you only remember one thing from this blog, remember, there is no such thing as “too much love”. Despite what some people may say, it is impossible to “spoil” a baby with love – he or she will need as much as mum and dad can give.

Human babies are born much earlier in their development than other mammals, when they are still very vulnerable. They need to stay as close to their mums as possible after birth in order to keep them safe and happy. When babies feel secure they release a hormone called oxytocin, which helps their brains to grow and helps them to be happy babies and more confident children and adults. Holding, smiling and talking to your baby also releases oxytocin in you, which helps you to feel calm and happy. Don’t worry that your baby will become spoilt with too much attention – this is just not true. In fact, research shows that a baby whose needs for love and comfort are met is calmer, and will grow up to be more confident.

After your baby is born, hold him against your skin as soon as possible, and for as long as you want -it can be a magical time. If you breastfeed, this is a great time to start as your baby might move towards your breast and work out the best way to suckle for herself. Breastfeeding releases lots of oxytocin in baby and mum, which will help you to feel close and connected. If you choose to bottle feed, giving the first feed in skin contact while holding your baby close and looking into his eyes will also help you bond.

In the following days and weeks, it is all about keeping your baby close, night and day, so you can start to recognise the signals he is making. These can be to tell you he is hungry or wants a cuddle. Cuddling your baby next to your skin allows him to smell you and hear your heartbeat, which will comfort and calm him, making your baby feel safe. This will also help you to feel calm and relaxed and will help with breastfeeding. Breastfed babies cannot be overfed so you can use breastfeeding to soothe your baby and as a way of spending time together. If you are bottle feeding, you and your partner try to give most of the feeds yourselves then you can learn to notice his cues that he wants to be fed and when he has had enough.

As I finished the visit and left the ‘Baby Friendly’ hospital celebrating their success, a newly qualified midwife handed me a blog to take home written by an African mother living in the UK, called Why African Babies Don’t Cry[1] the words of wisdom she had learnt, was that your baby is happiest when they are with you and as a mum you respond to their needs by keeping your baby close to you, talking to him, stroking him, feeding him and responding to his cues, he will then know that he is loved, and that will be the best way of all to building a happy baby and a happy you.


Francesca Entwistle
Professional Advisor
Baby Friendly Initiative

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  1. Comment by Emma Gedge posted on

    Thanks so much for this fab info and all the provided resources! Breastfeeding have enduring effects that promote optimal health throughout the life of the breastfed baby and the mother.


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