Your own breastmilk is exactly the right food for your baby. There's strong evidence that babies do best if they have nothing but breastmilk for about the first six months of life. This may be important if you have any diabetes or allergies in your family as the use of formula milk increases the risk of diabetes, asthma or eczema.
Breastfeeding protects your baby from infections, including sickness and diarrhoea, ear infections and chest infections. For some infections this protection continues even after you stop breastfeeding.
Exclusive breastfeeding - giving nothing except breastmilk - is more likely to reduce the risk or severity of allergies and provides the best protection. However, combining breastmilk with some formula still helps to reduce the risk of infections.
Women who breastfeed have less risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer and broken bones due to osteoporosis in later life. If you choose to combine formula feeding alongside breastfeeding, you can increase your chances of maintaining a good milk supply if you only introduce formula once breastfeeding is well established. Your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding counsellor can help you work out when – and how - to do this.
But if you start to bottle feed from the beginning it can be very hard to change to breastfeeding. If you are undecided, it's therefore best to start breastfeeding. Your baby will benefit from even a few feeds of colostrum - which is the first milk that your breasts produce, rich in antibodies and other substances that protect against illness and infections.
Finally, formula milk is more expensive than breastfeeding. It costs at least £350 to £420 a year, depending on which formula you use. Talk to a midwife, health visitor or other health professional about which formula to choose for your baby.