Introduction to Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding allows you and your baby to emotionally bond in a special way that cannot be matched, since breastfeeding meets both the nutritional and nurturing needs.
Your Breast Milk
While you were pregnant, your body was preparing a very special blend of nutrients to meet your baby's needs. Colostrum (early breast milk) is the perfect starter food for him/her. This yellowish, creamy substance is found in the breasts during pregnancy and for a few days after delivery. Your colostrum provides all the nutrition your baby will need right after birth. It also provides important protection against bacteria and viruses. Colostrum also acts as natural laxative (something that makes it easier to have bowel movements) to help clear the meconium (the dark sticky stool that is made while the baby is in the uterus) from your baby's intestines.
Over the first few days after your baby is born, the amount of breast milk you make will increase. Breast milk is made of fats, sugars, proteins, minerals, vitamins, and enzymes and is designed to promote brain and body growth. Antibodies are also present in your breast milk, which help boost your baby's immune system. There are many studies that show by feeding your baby only breast milk (no formula), he/she may be less likely to have certain medical problems. The medical problems that may be prevented by breast milk include: ear infections, other serious bacterial infections, diabetes, intestinal problems, and childhood cancer and food allergies. Breast-feeding reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or "crib death." In addition, feeding your baby only breast milk may give his/her brain and visual development an extra boost. The activity of suckling at the breast helps your baby enhance the development of his/her oral muscles and facial bones, as well as speech development. In addition, as your baby grows older, your milk changes to meet his/her nutritional needs.
Back to top
Benefits to the New Mom
Breastfeeding also provides benefits to you.
It enables your uterus to shrink more quickly to its pre-pregnancy size. If continued for at least three months, breastfeeding may help you lose weight. It also delays the return of menstruation (though this is not a reliable means of birth control), and reduces your risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding saves you time and money as infant formula is expensive. Breast milk is not only free, it is always available and at the right temperature.
Breastfeeding benefits the mother because:
- Breastfeeding after giving birth causes contractions of the uterus, which helps avoid heavy bleeding. During the six weeks after birth, the uterus continues to contract and shrink back to its pre-pregnant size.
- Breastfeeding is economical. You do not have the added cost of formula and supplies (approximately more than $1,000 per year).
- Breastfeeding is more convenient. There is nothing to mix, measure, wash, or prepare.
- Breastfeeding may help the new mom return to her pre-pregnant weight sooner than if not breastfeeding, especially if nursing the infant for six months.
- Breastfeeding triggers the release of the hormone Prolactin, known as the "mothering hormone", which promotes a feeling of relaxation and well-being.
- Research has shown that breastfeeding may be beneficial in reducing the risks of breast and uterine cancer and osteoporosis.
- Breastfeeding helps mothers working out of the home miss work less due to their infant's illnesses.
Back to top
Benefits to Your Baby
Breast milk is the ideal first food for your baby because:
- Breastfeeding provides frequent, close physical contact and helps mother and baby become better acquainted.
- Antibodies from the mother are passed through the milk. Therefore, breastfed babies have higher resistance to infection, such as respiratory viruses. This protection cannot be duplicated by formula which contain no human antibodies.
- Breast milk is absorbed quickly and is associated with less stomach upsets, constipation and diarrhea.
- Breast milk is ready, warm, and always fresh.
- Breastfed babies are less prone to develop allergies.
- Breastfeeding may decrease the chance of your baby developing ear infections, diabetes, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis later in life.
- Breastfeeding reduces the incidence of some childhood cancers, such as lymphomas.
- Breastfeeding reduces the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
- Breastfeed during the first hour after delivery.
- No supplements (such as water, glucose water or formula) should be given to breastfeeding newborns unless needed because of a medical condition.
- Newborns should be fed whenever they show signs of hunger such as increased alertness or activity, mouthing or rooting. Crying is a late sign of hunger.
- Feed the baby only breast milk for the first 6 months of life so your baby receives the ideal nutrition that supports optimal growth and development.
- A formal evaluation of breastfeeding by a trained observer should happen in the first 24 to 48 hours after delivery and at a follow-up visit 48-72 hours after mother and baby are discharged from the hospital.
- Expressing and storing breast milk are encouraged in order that the baby receives the stored milk rather than formula for times the mother and baby have to be separated.
- Breastfeeding is recommended for the first 12 months of life and longer if the mother and baby desire to continue.
Back to top
When it is time for a much-needed night out, new challenges await you. You may find it more enjoyable to simply bring your baby along when you go out for the first three to four weeks. As newborns, babies are easily carried and do not require a lot of equipment.
If you need to leave your baby with a family member or baby sitter, explore several alternatives for feeding your baby while you are away, such as expressing your milk, so it can be given to your baby by a caregiver.
Read about expressing and storing your breast milk.
Back to top
Breastfeeding in Public
Many mothers have concerns about breastfeeding in public. When your baby needs to nurse, feeding can be done inconspicuously by placing a baby blanket or a shawl over your nursing infant. A sweater that pulls up or a blouse that can be unbuttoned from the bottom works well. In addition, most slings allow for discreet nursing. (available at Newborn Connections).
Shopping malls often have large ladies' lounges suitable for comfortable breastfeeding. Many stores provide changing tables. Take a little time to survey which stores and restaurants are the most accommodating to your needs. California laws support your right to breastfeed your infant in any public area.
A support group for nursing mothers is a valuable connection. It provides encouragement, answers, and tips on ways to manage going out with your baby. Consult your resource list to find support groups in your area.
Back to top
It is important for a new mother to know that her partner still finds her desirable. Physical closeness and loving support will help ease this time. Intercourse is usually not advised until after your vaginal bleeding has stopped for a few days. Remember intercourse is not the only way to maintain intimacy.
Frequently, a new mother's sex drive may be somewhat lower after delivery due to vaginal discomfort and a decreased estrogen level. Exhaustion may contribute to your lack of interest. Be patient with each other as this is a short transition period. Lowered estrogen levels in breastfeeding mothers may also cause the vagina to be drier. Lubrication such as KY Jelly™ may be helpful.
Try to feed the baby before making love, if possible, so your breasts will be softer, more comfortable, and less likely to leak. During nipple stimulation and orgasm your milk may begin leaking. The presence of your milk lets you know how well your breasts are functioning!
Even though a breastfeeding mother may not begin a regular menstrual cycle for several months, she may ovulate. Some type of contraception is necessary if you do not wish to become pregnant right away. Consult with your health care provider.
Back to top