Breastfeeding: Introduction

Last updated: Monday, December 11, 2023

NB: See learning outcomes for this tutorial mapped to competencies, a PDF of the whole text, and a one-page summary.

☞ Why this subject matters...

It is important that pharmacists can support women to make informed decisions about the use of medicines in breastfeeding. You may not be asked about this subject often, but it is necessary to know the basics so that you can advise and support your patients appropriately.

Breastfeeding benefits

Breastfeeding has advantages over formula feeding. Breast milk provides the ideal nutrients for a human infant, with maximum bioavailability. It also encourages closeness between infant and mother from an early age. Breastfeeding imparts hormones, immunoglobulins and other bioactive molecules to the infant that stimulate its immune system, allowing healthy microbial colonisation and protecting against infant infection. It may also provide health benefits to the mother in terms of decreased risk of some forms of breast cancer and osteoporosis, and long-term benefits to the infant such as a reduced likelihood of type II diabetes and obesity. Unlike formula feeding, no complex sterilisation procedure is required, and it is free.

Some of the benefits of breastfeeding, and misconceptions about it, are reviewed by the NHS website, and the La Leche League provides a wealth of information to support breastfeeding mothers. 

However, women need to be careful about taking medicines when they breastfeed, and the rest of the learning materials on this site are concerned with this issue.