You’ve probably heard that “breast is best.” In addition to being a catchy phrase, it’s true: there are a number of benefits for both mother and baby for those who choose to breastfeed.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding for Baby
- Breast milk contains live immunity. When a baby consumes breast milk, he or she receives both immediate and lifelong immunities.
- Breast milk provides the specific nutrients that meet your baby’s needs. It’s pretty amazing: Your milk supply will fluctuate based on your baby’s demand. Your baby will communicate what she needs from your body, and your body will then produce the quality and quantity of milk to meet those requirements.
- Breastfeeding can reduce your baby’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed for at least one year, research shows that breastfeeding as little as two months cuts the risk of SIDS in half.
- Breastfeeding allows babies to feel close to the “home base” that they’ve known while in the womb. Hearing your heartbeat and feeling your warm skin will help her transition from the inner world to the outer world.
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a polyunsaturated fatty acid found in breast milk, helps support proper brain development.
- Breastfeeding can reduce your baby’s risk of developing middle ear infections.
- Breastfeeding can reduce your baby’s chances of developing allergies.
- Breastfeeding can reduce your baby’s risk of developing diabetes, since breast milk contains no artificial sugar.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mom
Breastfeeding also can benefit mom by:
- Reducing her risk of developing osteoporosis
- Reducing her breast cancer risk
- Reducing her ovarian cancer risk
- Producing oxytocin, which helps contract the uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size
- Burning calories and using mom’s fat stores for her breast milk
- Lowering her chance of developing postpartum depression, since breastfeeding enables pregnancy hormones to decrease slowly, instead of abruptly
- Saving money, since breastfeeding is free!
Why Breastfeeding Can Be Challenging
Breastfeeding isn’t always easy. It may take time for new moms – and new babies – to learn this skill. Many women of childbearing age weren’t exposed to breastfeeding, either because the women in their lives didn’t do it, so for many, it’s a new concept. And, sometimes difficulties will arise. You’re exhausted and sore from delivering, and your baby will likely want to eat several times a night in the middle of the night during the first few weeks. Your baby’s belly is about the size of a nickel. She needs small, frequent feedings during the first couple of weeks. In fact, a typical breastfed baby will eat eight to 12 times in a 24-hour period. It may feel like your baby isn’t getting enough milk, but a lactation consultant can provide you with the tools to determine how well your baby is feeding. You may think that you’re not producing enough milk but you will. It’s important not to supplement breastfeeding with formula. I advise new moms not to use bottles, pacifiers, or pumps for the first four to six weeks, as these interventions will interrupt the supply and demand-driven process.
Another time breastfeeding can be challenging is when your baby is not latching properly. A good latch means better milk transfer for her and less pain and discomfort for you. If you’re still experiencing nipple pain for more than two minutes into a feeding after two weeks of feeding, contact a board-certified lactation consultant for help.
How Can a Partner Support a Breastfeeding Mother?
A partner who wants to be supportive can offer to take something off mom’s to-do list, like laundry or making sure mom has something to eat. There’s a great opportunity for bonding time for the other parent, like making bath time with baby your special time together. It’s important for the non-breastfeeding partner to also bond with the baby.
What If I Don’t Breastfeed?
We’re all entitled to our individual choices. A woman might choose not to breastfeed or is unable due to illness, medication usage, breast surgery or other personal reasons. Breastfeeding is a personal choice. It’s our job as medical professionals to support new moms through this journey, no matter what that is. If you’re unable to breastfeed or prefer not to, your body still will produce milk, but it should dry up quickly. A lactation consultant can help you understand this process.
If you’ve decided breastfeeding is right for you and your family, a certified lactation consultant can provide the clinical guidance and support you need. A support group also may be helpful. CentraState Medical Center offers a free breastfeeding class every Friday.
Any amount of breastfeeding is beneficial. Be patient and ask for help if you need it. It can be a lot of work in the beginning, but the benefits are worth it.
Lysanne Loucel, MBA, IBCLC, is a board-certified lactation consultant on staff at CentraState Medical Center. She can be reached by calling 866-CENTRA 7.