We all know the benefits of breastfeeding for your baby, but what does it do for you?

Gives you the edge

Higher levels of the hormone oxytocin caused by breastfeeding have been associated with enhanced feelings of love and a desire to show off your baby, making you fiercely protective and proud – sometimes even aggressive. Watch out, world!

Reduces breast cancer risks

Breastfeeding lowers your chance of developing breast cancer before you reach menopause. This is true even after just two weeks of feeding. The longer you breastfeed, the greater your protection.

Boosts brain power

When you breastfeed, you protect your brain cells and help to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease later in life. This is because breastfeeding improves insulin sensitivity, a factor linked to the disease.

Protects your joints

If you breastfeed for a total of 12 months or more during your life, you can reduce your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. And the longer you breastfeed, the lower your risk.

Can help you lose your baby weight

Making milk increases a woman's energy needs, so breastfeeding creates potential for weight loss. Your body uses up the extra fat stored during pregnancy for breastfeeding. It's important not to diet during breastfeeding because your body and your baby need a good balance of nutrients.

Works on demand

At first, you may experience leaking. But lactation consultant Barb Glare says your body soon registers that it's feeding only one small baby – not an entire suburb. "Most of the time mothers find their milk supply settles down after a few weeks and they no longer experience leaking unless they become really full," she says. Leaking is more likely to happen if bub misses a feed – and also during sex. The body releases oxytocin during both activities and can get confused.

Shrinks your uterus

All women experience mild contractions after giving birth to their baby, and the majority are likely to experience stronger contractions for the first few weeks while they're breastfeeding. This is because the act of breastfeeding encourages the release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps your uterus to contract. "This can be a dull ache but some women do experience some pain," says Barb. The good news is the more painful the contractions, the faster your uterus returns to its normal size and position, which will help you on the journey back to your pre-pregnancy body.

Helps you sleep

If you find you're nodding off faster than your baby during feeds, this is due to the sleep-inducing hormone prolactin. The good news is that this should help you get more rest. Research reveals breastfeeding mums sleep an average of 45 minutes
a night longer than women who don't, and also report feeling less tired.

Warning! May trigger back pain

Don't ignore your back when breastfeeding or it could end up causing you trouble. And always resist the temptation to lean forwards because you will be curving your back, which can cause you pain in the long run. Barb suggests you lie back and relax whenever you breastfeed. "Using a couple of pillows can sometimes be useful in the learning phase of breastfeeding, but pretty soon you'll ditch them," she says. Recline into your chair and let gravity encourage your baby to stay on the breast. "Always bring bub to your breast – not breast to bub – and sit
so you're cradling bub comfortably," Barb says.

Works on demand

At first, you may experience leaking. But lactation consultant Barb Glare says your body soon registers that it's feeding only one small baby – not an entire suburb. "Most of the time mothers find their milk supply settles down after a few weeks and they no longer experience leaking unless they become really full," she says. Leaking is more likely to happen if bub misses a feed – and also during sex. The body releases oxytocin during both activities and can get confused.

Breastfeeding creates a bond between mother and baby. (Image: Getty Images)

FEEDING ISSUES

Too much – or not enough – milk? In pain when you feed? Solve your breastfeeding worries with these tips

Some babies and breasts go well together right from the start, but there are many mums and bubs who need a helping hand. Breastfeeding is a new skill for both of you, and it can take a couple of weeks before you become used to attaching a newborn to your breast and figuring out when she has had enough. But stay calm, work your way through any hiccups and soon you'll be feeding with ease and enjoyment.

Feeling full

When your milk first comes in or your baby starts feeding less, your breasts may start to become engorged, feeling hard, hot and painful. This happens because there's more milk in the breast than your baby can consume in one feed. To prevent engorgement in the early weeks, feed your baby frequently (eight to 12 times in 24 hours). Offer the first breast twice before you offer the second to settle the breasts and give you relief. A cold compress on the breast for short periods can help reduce pain. Paracetamol is also effective and safe for you to take.

Sorting supply

At first you may find you have so much milk it causes temporary difficulties. But this will usually settle down during the first six weeks of your baby's life. She may splutter at times when the milk 'lets down' (you'll probably feel a tingling sensation), but as the flow becomes more consistent, you'll find your bub feeds more easily without spluttering. In the meantime, try expressing a little milk by hand before feeding. And if you are leaking milk between feeds, breast pads will help keep the skin's surface dry.

Many women worry about their ability to supply enough breastmilk for their baby. This is natural, since you can't measure how much milk she is consuming. Signs that indicate bub is feeding sufficiently include correct attachment, strong sucking and swallowing, plus eight or more feeds and about six wet nappies in 24 hours.

Sore nipples

If soreness is due to poor attachment (the most common cause), your nipple will look pinched or misshapen when bub comes off the breast. It usually heals on its own, but if pain persists, contact a breastfeeding counsellor or a lactation consultant.

Tender lumps

Sometimes one of the tiny tubes carrying breastmilk can become blocked, causing a painful lump. To avoid developing an infection called mastitis, you need to get your milk moving again. If your temperature is over 38°C, you have muscle ache and a hard, reddened area on your breast, see your doctor, who may prescribe antibiotics for the infection.

Close connections

Breastfeeding can be helped along with plenty of skin-on-skin contact between a mother and her baby. Placing a naked baby on her mum – or dad's – bare chest immediately after birth creates a bond between parent and child. Research also shows close physical contact helps to calm babies, leading them to develop more settled sleep patterns and encouraging successful breastfeeding, since a calm baby is more likely to attach well.

To encourage your baby's good health and help build the relationship between parent and child, continue with skin-to-skin contact as your baby grows. Do this by massaging your baby with a rich, protective moisturiser or bathing with your baby using a mild cleanser that helps to prevent dry skin.

A helping hand

Midwives, your early childhood centre and lactation consultants can all provide advice and information. The Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) also supports breastfeeding women with their phone/email advisory service, meetings and publications. See www.breastfeeding.asn.au.