A guide on all the amazing benefits of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is the natural way of feeding babies, and has been for so long and rightly so because of the numerous benefits of breastfeeding there is. Breastfeeding is the recommended method of feeding babies with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) recommending that breastfeeding be initiated within the first hour of birth and exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of the baby’s life while breastfeeding should be continued for up to 2 years and beyond for children.
While the benefits of breastfeeding are extensive for both the mother and the child, it doesn’t come easy for every mother and can be very stressful for a few mothers. Breastfeeding provides its unique challenges and especially in the first few weeks for both the mother and the child, it may require a bit of adjusting and getting used to and that is why the decision on whether to breastfeed is a personal choice to be made by the mother.
Either way, it is important to be aware of the amazing physical and mental benefits of breastfeeding, and here’s a guide that explains just that.
What is breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is the process of feeding a baby with breast milk. Breastfeeding which is also called nursing is done by feeding the baby directly from the breast of the mother but can also be done by pumping out the breast milk into a bottle and feeding it to the baby.
Breast milk contains readily available nutrition which every baby needs to grow in appropriate proportions which they can easily absorb and is the best source of nutrition for babies. Medical experts including The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months after which complementary foods can be added alongside breastfeeding for 1 year or a longer period than would be decided by the mother and child.
Signs your baby is hungry
For new mothers especially, certain aspects of mothering a child may be unclear and one of such is knowing when your baby is hungry and when he or she is full. Contrary to a few ideas, crying is not the first sign a baby gives when he or she is hungry. Crying is a late sign from your baby that he or she has been waiting patiently to be fed and has given a few hunger signs which have been left unattended.
As a new mother, it is therefore important that you know and understand the hunger cues your baby can show when hungry. Below are a few early hunger cues:
- Turning and moving their head in the direction of the chest or breast
- Becoming more awake and alert
- Moving of their fists to their mouth
- Folding their hands into clenched fists
- Lip-smacking or sucking on their fingers
- Opening and closing their mouths
Babies can also be woken up from sleep by hunger and it is necessary to be able to tell if your baby is awake because he is hungry. Although babies should not sleep for long hours at a time, sometimes hunger pangs can be the reason they’re awake.
It is also pertinent to remind mothers that a baby determines when he or she is hungry or full. If you are concerned that your baby is not feeding enough, talking to your child’s doctor is a better option than attempting to force your baby to eat more, and if you’re worried that your baby is feeding too much also talk to your pediatrician.
Benefits of breastfeeding
The ensuing benefits of breastfeeding are multifarious for both the mother and the child physically and mentally. Breast milk does not only contain all the nutrients the baby needs to grow, it is also always available at the right temperature and easily digested.
For the baby
- Reduces the risk of diseases: Breast milk contains millions of live cells, stem cells, oligosaccharides, proteins, immunoglobulins, and as such, babies who are breastfed exclusively for 6 months have a reduced rate of respiratory tract diseases, ear infections, allergies, colds, bouts of diarrhea, childhood leukemia and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) amongst other infections.
- Higher IQs: Some studies have shown that babies who are breastfed garner higher intelligence scores than babies who were formula-fed and also show a difference in their brain development with breastfed children less likely to experience learning difficulties in the latter stages of their development. A study carried out in the UK showed 16-year-olds who were breastfed for 6 months would more likely have a higher grade in their exams than those who were formula-fed. For premature babies, breast milk protects against medical conditions like chronic lung disease, necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) which can potentially be fatal to babies.
- Better sleeping pattern: Breastfeeding helps to produce oxytocin in a baby’s body which makes him feel sleepy while nucleotides in your breast milk help develop healthy circadian rhythms for your baby.
- Helps gain healthy weight: Breastfed babies have a higher amount of beneficial gut bacteria and more leptin than babies who were fed with formula helping them regulate fat storage in their body with a study showing a significant reduction in the chances of a baby becoming overweight when breastfed.
For the mother
- Helps uterus contraction: Breastfeeding increases the release of oxytocin which helps the uterus to contract and return to its pre-pregnancy size more quickly and also helps to reduce bleeding of the uterus post-pregnancy.
- Weight loss: Mothers who breastfeed their babies are more likely to lose weight faster than mothers who practice formula feeding because breastfeeding burns extra calories and may also have a reduced risk of long-term obesity and hypertension. The weight gained during the pregnancy period will be used as a source of energy for breastfeeding mothers during their lactation period.
- Emotional Benefits: Research has shown that the bond between a breastfeeding mother and her child is stronger than any other human contact. During breastfeeding, hormones have been released that help to strengthen the bond between mother and child. Actions that also take place while breastfeeding such as holding the baby, tucking the baby to sleep after feeding also help to create a bond between mother and child.
- Time and Money Saving: Breast milk is a ready-to-eat food for babies and is always available on the go to be given to babies which saves time that would otherwise be spent on cleaning and sterilizing feeding bottles, trying to warm the food to be given to your baby, mixing the food. Breastfeeding also helps to cut down on expenses like buying baby formula, feeding bottles and because breast milk contains all the nutrients in the appropriate amounts, babies are usually healthier which means fewer visits to the hospitals and money spent on medication.
- Health Benefits: Mothers who breastfeed their babies tend to have protection against varying diseases and sicknesses. Mothers who breastfeed for a long period reduce their chances of developing breast cancer by 24% with other health conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease showing a reduced risk rate in mothers who breastfeed. Postpartum depression (PPD) which can be developed post-childbirth is also less likely to develop in breastfeeding mothers.
The best position to breastfeed
Breastfeeding mothers are usually concerned about the most appropriate position to feed their babies but really, that can only be determined by the mother and the baby. There are different positions to breastfeed and it is wise to know these positions and try them out in the early stages of breastfeeding to quickly settle on one that is most comfortable for you and your baby.
This is probably the most known position for breastfeeding mothers although it is not the easiest position with a newborn because of the seeming lack of support for the baby. This position requires you to sit upright and position your baby on his or her side with the head and neck laying along your forearm which puts the body against your stomach. To get adequate support, you may use a breastfeeding pillow across your lap and behind you.
Similar to the cradle hold with just a slight difference, this position is easier for newborns and gives you more control to guide your baby and have a good view. In this position, your arm acts as a support for your baby’s neck and shoulder while the body lies along your opposite forearm. You can use a pillow to support and raise your baby to your nipple level and also support your elbows.
Laid-back or Biological nurturing position
This is in most cases the position every mother uses at first breastfeeding as skin-to-skin contact is good for your baby. With your back leaned back in a comfortable reclining position, your baby should be placed on your chest while gravity keeps him in position. One of your hands should be used to support your baby’s thigh so that his or her feet aren’t left dangling,
The clutch of football hold position
This is a very good position for mothers who underwent a cesarean section and those with large breasts because this position provides adequate support and control for the baby. Here, you will sit with your baby resting along your forearm while you support his or her head in your hand and tuck the feet under your arm.
This position is great for nighttime feeding if you are tired or underwent a cesarean section. Both the baby and the mother lie side-by-side facing each other with a pillow placed behind the baby’s back to avoid sliding away from you.
Always chose comfortability
Breastfeeding can be likened to a job and therefore anything that will ease the burden and give you more comfortability should be welcomed. Nursing bras, breast pads, nursing pillows, footstools help to make you more comfortable especially considering that you will spend significant time breastfeeding. You can also have books, snacks, TV remote right by your side just to keep you comfy and keep you company while you breastfeed.
Eat well and stay hydrated
Don’t forget that you are feeding and drinking water for two and you must be replenished as much as possible so that your body can also produce enough milk. Be sure to eat healthily and include fruits, vegetables, and protein foods. Drink plenty of water and try to get as much rest as you can.
Feed your baby from both breasts as much as possible
Your baby may develop a preference for a particular breast but it is important to feed on both breasts to avoid engorgement. Engorgement happens when your breasts produce more milk than your baby consumes and your milk ducts are overfilled with milk and this causes discomfort and pain.
By nursing your baby as often as possible and from both breasts, you get the breasts drained to keep them from becoming hard and swollen.
Give adequate care to your skin and nipples
Exposing your skin to sunlight, letting your breasts out to receive fresh air, gentle washing, and using a cream on your nipples are a few practices that can help you take care of your skin and prevent sore, cracked nipples.
Take a class if you have to
There is no harm in asking for help and taking a class to help you sort through the breastfeeding period. You will experience a different feeling in practice than what you felt when reading theory knowledge and it is normal. If you feel you can’t handle it, see your doctor and tell him your breastfeeding plan and take a class.
Breastfeeding mothers may face different problems ranging from sore nipples, low milk supply, breast infection, nursing strike (a situation that occurs when your baby after months of feeding well suddenly begins to underfeed or completely reject breast milk) and for others, it may be adjusting to life and work as a nursing mother. If you are experiencing any of these challenges, it is not strange or peculiar to just you and you can speak to your doctor about them.
Are there legal laws that support breastfeeding mothers?
There are legal laws that support and protect breastfeeding mothers at both federal and state levels. There are also workplace and travel laws in the US that protect breastfeeding mothers.
Is it advisable to buy breast milk?
Whilst every mother will be best served to breastfeed their baby if for any reason there is a need to buy breast milk, milk banks with a safety record can be patronized for processed breast milk.
Breastfeeding has amazing benefits and is widely recommended with just a limited medical contraindication to breastfeeding. These include; if the mother is HIV positive, positive for human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or II, untreated tuberculosis or active herpes, is in the usage of drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, phencyclidine (PCP).
The decision on whether to breastfeed or not is determined by you, the mother but you should choose to give your child the best method of feeding with benefits that would last a lifetime, that is breastfeeding.
Especially for first-time mothers, the new experience of feeding a child can be overwhelming especially having to breastfeed in public and trying to integrate back into the work environment but always remember to take it one step a time and with time you’ll feel very comfortable and you’ll love every bit of it.