Breast milk is the perfect food for your baby. It is really quite incredible. Your body produces milk that has all the nutrition to sustain the healthy growth and crucial early development of your child in its first year of life, but there is more to nursing than simply providing food to your baby. Breastfeeding is a wonderful way to nourish and bond with your baby while giving it a legacy of health advantages that will last into adulthood.
Breast Milk is Mother Nature’s Perfect Recipe
The first milk that is produced immediately after birth is called colostrum, and it is colloquially known as “liquid gold” because it is so rich with the nutrients and antibodies that newborn babies need. Colostrum does not look like milk. It is a sticky, yellow serum and is only produced for the first few days of your child’s life, but its high concentration of essential nutrients is easier for your newborn’s immature digestive system to break down.
As your baby grows, your milk will change to suit its evolving needs. Colostrum transitions into a white, thin milk that becomes fattier and more nutritious as your baby’s appetite increases. For the first six months of life breast milk has absolutely everything your baby requires for sustaining the healthy growth, but it does much more than simply feed your baby. Breast milk supports complex brain development, helps build the immune system, and contributes incomparably to the development of a healthy gut biome. In the first several months after your baby is born, breast milk lays the foundation for a lifetime of health.
The Advantages of Breastfeeding
There is a consensus among health organizations that breastfeeding is the best nutritional option for babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that that ideally all babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life and should continue up to 12 months as they are introduced to solid foods. Breastfeeding can continue after the first year of age, although the nutritional benefits decrease after that point.
Breastfeeding has many benefits for both mothers and babies. Breast milk not only provides the perfectly balanced nutrition that your baby needs at every stage of its early development, but it also adapts to your baby’s needs from day to day. If your baby is sick, breast milk can change its composition to help fight illnesses, so breastfed babies often get sicker less often and recover faster. And since the milk takes on the flavors of what the mother eats, it can also develop your baby’s palate and can prepare it for eating a healthy variety of solid foods.
There is also an important emotional component to breast feeding. When women nurse, their bodies release a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin plays a significant role in human social bonding and helps mothers and babies establish important emotional connections. Nursing also requires new mothers to stop and enjoy some quiet time cuddling with their baby. In the first few hectic weeks and months of motherhood this bonding experience is invaluable.
Breastfeeding provides a legacy of benefits that extend into your child’s later life. Studies show that breastfeeding reduces rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), childhood obesity, ear infection, eczema, respiratory problems, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel diseases. Breastfeeding can also decrease occurrences of autoimmune disorders and some cancers.
Breastfeeding benefits babies, but it has health advantages for mothers, too. Nursing releases hormones that cause the uterus to contract and return more quickly to its pre-pregnancy size, and it requires extra calories to make that nutrient rich milk your baby needs, so it can help new mothers lose their pregnancy weight. Most beneficially, though, breastfeeding reduces a woman’s risk of ovarian and breast cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Breastfeeding and Proper Nutrition
It is always important to maintain a well balanced diet, but it is especially important if you are breastfeeding. Making milk for your baby is calorie-intensive and it uses the nutrients in your body, so a healthy diet can ensure that both you and your baby are receiving adequate nutrition.
Your body will prioritize your baby’s nourishment over your own, so if you are not getting appropriate amounts of vitamins and minerals from your diet, your body will draw on its reserves to make breast milk, which can compromise your personal health. For that reason, it is not recommended that nursing mothers diet after giving birth. It is best to allow your body to lose the pregnancy weight at a natural rate by combining healthy eating with breastfeeding and moderate exercise.
Since your body draws on your own diet to make breast milk, breastfeeding moms should try to eat as nutritious and balanced a diet as possible. Avoid highly processed foods and instead focus on eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats like those found in olive oil and nuts, and lean proteins. Breastfeeding mothers should also stay hydrated. Drink lots of water, but limit caffeine and alcohol consumption.
If you require prescription medication while breastfeeding, be sure to discuss its safety with your healthcare provider and always refrain from using tobacco products and recreational drugs while nursing.
Struggling with Breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is a unique experience for every mother and baby, and sometimes it can be difficult. Some women may struggle with maintaining their milk supply, and babies occasionally have trouble latching onto the breast. The most important thing to remember is to relax. Like everything else, there is a learning a curve to breastfeeding, and while some mothers and babies take to it immediately, others need time to learn how to do it successfully. Be patient with yourself and your baby. It may be physically painful at first, but your body will adapt and for many women and babies, nursing becomes second nature.
If you and your baby are struggling with breastfeeding, talk to your doctor and check with a lactation consultant who can assist you and your baby with learning how to breastfeed together. If you are not producing enough milk after the first week or two, ask your doctor if you can take an herbal supplement or a prescription medication to help increase it. However, be advised that supplements and medication are not substitutes for a proper nursing technique and frequent feedings. If you are still concerned with producing an adequate amount of milk to satisfy your baby or need to supplement nursing with formula for practical reasons, formula will not reverse the benefits of breast milk.
Sometimes, it is not possible for women to breastfeed because of physical or personal circumstances and is vital that new mothers do not consider this as a personal failure. The ability to breastfeed is not a measure of your maternal fitness. Breastfeeding is the ideal, but there are other options to ensure proper nutrition and bonding if breastfeeding is not an option for you.
Breastfeeding Pain & Remedies
Breastfeeding is often easy and effortless, but it can occasionally be painful, especially at the beginning when you and your baby are still learning together. There are several conditions that can make breastfeeding painful, but most issues are manageable.
Dry and Cracked Nipples
Nursing can cause nipples to dry and crack. If this is a problem, do not use soap or scented creams and lotions, or wear bras made from synthetic material. Apply pure lanolin to the irritated area after nursing and it can help to heal soreness and prevent it from reoccurring.
When nursing, breasts can become painfully engorged because of a blocked milk duct. To avoid this, nurse or pump regularly. If breasts become so engorged that this is not possible, soak the affected breast in a warm bath or use a warm compress and gently massage away the blockage.
Sometimes a painful infection can result from nursing. Mastitis occurs when bacteria gets into the breast often through irritation or an abrasion. The infected breast will become sensitive, warm, and may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms. Antibiotics are required to treat this condition but women can usually continue nursing while they recover.
Tools of the Breastfeeding Trade
Every nursing mother and baby pair will have their own set of circumstances, preferences, and feeding styles. Some women may prefer a very simple approach to breastfeeding without any accessories, but other women need or want items that will help facilitate breastfeeding or make it more comfortable and convenient. There are many nursing-related products, from breast shields to nursing bras to milk storage solutions that are designed to help women nurse comfortably and successfully for as long as they want.
There are many highly rated manual and electric breast pumps that allow women to pump their own milk. Pumping is great option for women who cannot be with their baby throughout the day, or if they wish to store and freeze some of their milk supply for later use. Some women find natural breast feeding easy, but pumping may be difficult, so it is best to try out different kinds of pumps if possible to see which work best for you. You can buy your own breast pumping kit, but there are also rental programs and some insurance policies will help cover the cost.
There is no right way to nurse your baby and it is best to try out different positions and discover what works best for you and your child. Some women find breastfeeding more comfortable with special pillows that raise the baby to the breast and displace its weight while nursing.
For women who prefer to be discrete while nursing, convenient covers make breastfeeding in public more comfortable.
What’s the Ideal Choice for Feeding Baby?
Breastfeeding is a personal choice for new mothers and there are many reasons that determine if a woman can nurse and for how long. The medical community agrees that breastfeeding is the ideal way to nourish your new baby, but with many good alternatives, the decision is yours. The best option is simply to try it out if you are able, and to relax with your new baby and enjoy the experience.