The Beauty of Breastfeeding
Edited September 5, 2020
In addition to diabetes and nutrition, breastfeeding is another health topic that I’m very passionate about. My first job after graduation was working as a nutritionist at WIC, which is a program that provides families with services including nutrition education, breastfeeding support and vouchers for healthy foods. At WIC, I had the opportunity to learn more about breastfeeding; the many benefits for both mom and baby, the challenges associated with breastfeeding, and how to overcome them. I attended a 5 day seminar for health professionals focusing on breastfeeding where 40 hours of education on the topic was crammed into my brain. I was lucky enough to use what I learned to talk with pregnant and postpartum women regarding breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is truly beautiful and I want to share some basic information about it.
The Natural Way to Feed a Baby
Breastfeeding used to be the only way to feed babies. If a mother could not breastfeed , someone else would have to do it. “Wet nurses” were needed in these situations for the baby to survive.
Nowadays, many different infant formulas are available as a substitute or supplement for breast milk. If mixed properly, they are safe and healthy for your baby. They don’t have the special antibodies and other components that breast milk does, but they have the right amount of fat, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals to help your baby grow and develop.
Breastfeeding vs. formula feeding can be a quite the hot topic between moms, and the source of some heated debates! I highly recommend every woman try breastfeeding and give it all they've got. However, medical issues can occur, life can get in the way, and sometimes for some people formula feeding just seems like the better option. If you are a breastfeeding veteran, hold your head high and be proud of all that you did! If you’re not, know that formula-fed infants grow and thrive just as well, and you made a decision that was right for you and your family.
How Do I Breastfeed?
Nothing special needs to be done to prepare to breastfeed, because your body does it all. During pregnancy, your milk ducts and milk producing cells will develop and your breasts will get bigger. At the end of the pregnancy and after delivery, your body will produce colostrum. This is a yellowy, thick fluid full of nutrients and antibodies that is just perfect for your newborn baby. You will not produce a large volume of it, but your baby’s belly is very small and can’t hold a whole lot yet. What colostrum lacks in volume, it makes up for in its immune-boosting power!
Babies are born with the intuitive ability to breastfeed. It’s actually quite amazing that they know exactly what to do! They might need some help along the way, but generally speaking they are hardwired to breastfeed. They latch on, suckle the milk out, and then generally fall asleep when they’re done. In the beginning, you’ll be doing a whole lot of breastfeeding, generally every 2 hours or so. Your baby will let you know when he or she is ready by showing hunger cues like smacking or licking their lips, opening and closing their mouth, or sucking on their lips or fingers. As the days, weeks and months go on, you will be breastfeeding less often as they will be able to get larger volumes per feeding.
Two to three days after delivery, instead of colostrum, your body will produce regular, “mature” milk. This will have the perfect combination of fat, carbohydrates and protein for your baby. It also provides the vitamins and minerals they need. As your baby grows and has different needs, your breast milk will continue change to meet those needs.
If you’re having trouble, ask to see a lactation consultant at the hospital. They are there to help you and your baby with latching, different positions and holds, and answer any questions you may have. If you need help after leaving the hospital, it is still available! Many lactation consultants work on an outpatient basis. They may be at your pediatrician’s office, their own office or store, or at an office at the hospital. Contact your health insurance company to find ones in your area or talk to the pediatrician. Even with all my knowledge and confidence, I needed LOTS of help from a lactation consultant even after leaving the hospital. We met with one that was employed by my baby's pedatrician's office several times for help and weight checks.
What Makes Breastfeeding So Special?
In addition to breast milk being chock full of nutrients, it also contains all sorts of things from mom’s body like white blood cells, digestive enzymes, antibodies and hormones. These help develop the baby’s immune system so they can better fight off viruses and bacteria. Because of this, breastfeeding decreases the risk of ear infections and diarrhea, and also lowers the risk of asthma and allergies developing later.
Breastfeeding is also great for mom. Many moms love that it can help with weight loss. Calories are being sucked right out of you- literally! How awesome is that? It can also decrease the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes and possibly osteoporosis.
Breastfeeding has so many benefits and I’ve only highlighted a few. The health benefits for both mom and baby is a pretty long list. There are actually other practical benefits as well. Breastfeeding is much more economical than formula feeding. If you plan on breastfeeding, you will want to purchase some nursing bras and a breast pump, which will most likely be needed if you’re going back to work. Even so, you will save a whole lot of money as formula can get pretty pricey.
Should you decide to breastfeed, a social support system can be a great benefit. Talk to your partner and others that will be involved in the care of your baby. Ask them to be supportive of your decision and tell them how they can help. You may be the only one breastfeeding, but they can help with bath time, changing and clothing the baby and the other abundant tasks that need to get done. If the early days, my husband was always preparing and bringing me snacks that I could eat while feeding the baby. If you are pumping, they can also help with milk storage and washing pump parts and bottles.