Are you considering breastfeeding? Congratulations!
Breastfeeding is an integral part of being a mother not only because you can rest assured that your infant is getting the best possible protective nutrition but also because breastfeeding will create an amazing emotional bond between you and your little one. However, maternity can be a daunting experience, especially when it comes to breastfeeding due to the time, patience and effort this requires. But if you choose to persevere with it, it can be a hugely rewarding experience. Read on to discover why deciding to breastfeed would be a wonderful decision for both your baby and yourself.
For how long should I breastfeed?
Exclusive breastfeeding is the sole nutrition your infant needs during the first six months of life. After that, giving your baby breast milk in concert with complementary foods (for another 18 months) will ensure proper growth and development.
But… Breastfeeding is not popular in this country…
Wrong — based on recent statistics, 78% of women in the UK choose to breastfeed! Breastfeeding is the most natural, healthiest and wholesome food you can give to your baby. So, if some people tell you that breastfeeding is weird, share the following research-proven facts with them.
Can breast milk meet my baby’s needs?
Each mother’s breast milk is unique and is ‘custom-made’ with just the right amount of carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals to meet the infant’s requirements.
Colostrum: This is the first milk your breasts produce during pregnancy. It is known as liquid gold and is often considered as the first ‘vaccine’ your baby gets as it contains a shock-full of protein, antibodies and other protective substances. This precious milk shields the newborn against viruses and bacteria by coating baby’s digestive system, thereby thwarting the growth of harmful viruses and bacteria. Colostrum also exerts a laxative effect that helps baby expel meconium, the first stools.
If your baby is born prematurely, the early protective effects of colostrum are even more crucial.
Mature milk: 2 to 3 days after delivery, your breast milk’s composition and volume change to sustain your baby’s increasing needs.
Is breast milk really better than infant formula?
Absolutely: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has deemed human milk ‘uniquely superior for infant feeding’.
Nutrients and protection
Breast milk meets a typical infant’s nutrient needs, provided that your baby is drinking enough daily (at least 160 ml/kg) and that your milk supply is consistent. Formula feeding puts your child at risks of under nutrition or overfeeding if the formula is not prepared properly.
By boosting your child’s immune system, breastfeeding decreases the incidence and/or severity of infectious diseases such as diarrhoea, gastroenteritis, bacterial meningitis, otitis media (ear infection that can lead to hearing loss) and infections of the respiratory and urinary tracts.
There is strong evidence that breastfeeding offers protection against obesity, Crohn’s disease, lymphoma, leukaemia, eczema and diabetes and may decrease sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Infant formulas do not offer any of these protections.
Enhanced brain development
According to several studies, children who were breastfed perform better on cognitive/developmental tests and have improved visual acuity.
Breast milk is easily digested
An infant’s stomach is made to absorb breast milk faster than formula; this means that the feedings are better tolerated. When your infant tolerates feedings well, she/he is less likely to suffer from constipation or stomach upsets compared to formula fed babies. Moreover, the nutrients in breast milk are more bio-available and thus, better utilised by the infant’s body.
How does breastfeeding benefit the mother?
Protection against diseases
If you breastfeed, you reduce your risks of ovarian and breast cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Facilitates weight loss
Your body will use the fat stores accumulated during pregnancy to produce breast milk. Moreover, studies have shown that mothers who breastfeed for at least 6 months remain slimmer 30 years later compared to those who didn’t.
Improved postpartum outcomes
Breastfeeding reduces the risk of postpartum bleeding and postpartum depression in mothers.
Breastfeeding can make your life easier
No bottles or nipples to sterilise, no need to prepare formula or warm bottles in the middle of the night, no risk of burning baby’s mouth because the milk is too hot.
Breastfeeding can save money
No formula and other accessories to buy and since breastfed babies are sick less often, this means lower health care costs.
Is it true that breast size affects milk production?
No, that’s a myth. The quantity of breast milk you produce actually depends on how many times you breastfeed your baby. Every time your baby feeds, she/he is updating your body about the volume of milk it needs to produce. So, trying out free samples of infant formula or skipping feedings can really undermine your body’s ability to produce sufficient breast milk. It is also important that you keep yourself well hydrated by drinking at least 1.5 to 2L of water daily.
Common breastfeeding obstacles
New mothers who have recently started breastfeeding often experience pain, nipple injury and soreness when nursing. Usually the culprit is incorrect latching. Don’t let that deter you from breastfeeding: a lactation consultant or a trained breastfeeding counsellor can assist you with that.
Returning to work
A solution to this would be to express milk by hand or using a breast pump so that your caregiver can feed the baby. Talk to your employer ahead of time about where you can pump privately and make sure to practice with the pump well before you need to go back to work.
Isolation and Lack of Support
Make sure to let your partner and family know how much breastfeeding means to you and explain why it is THE better choice. You can also contact the NHS for support.
Remember, whenever you need advice, do not hesitate to contact a health professional. Breastfeeding is natural, but getting used to it demands perseverance, patience and time. Within a few days or weeks you and baby will get totally comfortable with nursing.
Enjoy this special moment; it never lasts long enough.
Abrahams SW and Labbok MH (2011) Breastfeeding and otitis media: a review of recent evidence. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep. 11(6):508-512.
Gartner et al (2005) Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics. 115(2):496-506.
Metzger MW and McDade TW (2010) Original research article breastfeeding as obesity prevention in the United States: a sibling difference model. Am J Hum Biol. 22(3):291-296.
NHS Choices (2012) Why breastfeed? (Accessed August 2013).