Breastfeeding, also known as nursing, is the feeding of babies and young children with milk from a woman’s breast. Health professionals recommend that breastfeeding begin within the first hour of a baby’s life and continue as often and as much as the baby wants. During the first few weeks of life babies may nurse roughly every two to three hours. The duration of a feeding is usually ten to fifteen minutes on each breast. Older children feed less often. Mothers may pump milk so that it can be used later when breastfeeding is not possible. Breastfeeding has a number of benefits to both mother and baby, which infant formula lacks.
Breastfeeding is the most natural way to feed your baby. It provides all the nutrition your baby needs during the first six months of life, satisfies their hunger and thirst at the same time. It also helps to create a loving bond between you and your baby.
Breast milk has a number of health benefits for your baby:
- Breastmilk contains all the nutrients your baby needs for the first six months.
- It also satisfies the baby’s thirst.
- It helps develop the eyes and brain and other body systems.
- The act of breastfeeding helps with jaw development.
- It helps the baby resist infection and disease, even later in life.
- It reduces the risk of obesity in childhood and later in life.
- It contains a range of factors that protect your baby while their immune system is still developing.
Breastfeeding also has many benefits for mothers. Not only is it convenient, cheap, and always available, it also:
- reduces the risk of haemorrhage immediately after delivery
- reduces your risk of breast and ovarian cancer
- it’s convenient and cheap
- it can soothe your baby
- prolongs the amount of time before you get your period again.
What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding for Your Baby?
Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants. It has a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat — everything your baby needs to grow. And it’s all provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula. Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria. Breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies. Plus, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor.
Breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood in some studies. What’s more, the physical closeness, skin-to-skin touching, and eye contact all help your baby bond with you and feel secure. Breastfed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow rather than become overweight children. The AAP says breastfeeding also plays a role in the prevention of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). It’s been thought to lower the risk of diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers as well, but more research is needed.
Are There Breastfeeding Benefits for the Mother?
Breastfeeding burns extra calories, so it can help you lose pregnancy weight faster. It releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleeding after birth. Breastfeeding also lowers your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It may lower your risk of osteoporosis, too.
Since you don’t have to buy and measure formula, sterilize nipples, or warm bottles, it saves you time and money. It also gives you regular time to relax quietly with your newborn as you bond.
Getting started breastfeeding
You can usually start breastfeeding within the first hour or so of your baby’s birth.
The first milk in your breasts is called colostrum. This milk is quite thick and may be yellowish in colour. It’s very rich in protein and antibodies that will help give your baby a great start in life. Mature breast milk gradually replaces the colostrum in the first few days after birth.
How easy is breastfeeding?
Though some women take to breastfeeding easily, many new mums find it hard to get going. So if you’re feeling discouraged, you’re not alone. Talk to your community midwife, or ask to be referred to a breastfeeding specialist, if you’re having problems. She can watch you feed your baby, and suggest ways to make it easier.
The National Childbirth Trust, La Leche League and The Breastfeeding Network can put you in touch with skilled supporters.
Breastfeeding takes practice, and is a skill that you and your baby will be learning from scratch. Give yourself as much time as you need to get it down to a fine art. Take it a day, a week, or even just one feed, at a time.
If you’re having a bad feeding day, tell yourself that tomorrow will be better, and that any problems you are having are likely to pass. By the time of your postnatal check, you’ll probably be breastfeeding without giving it a second thought. If not, ask for support.
Ideally, you should try to maintain close skin-to-skin contact with your baby immediately after the delivery. If you hold your baby against your chest and between your breasts for a while, there’s a good chance he or she will find your nipple and begin feeding without any help. Your midwife or a lactation consultant can also help guide you and your baby into position.
How often will my baby feed?
During the first week of life most babies will gradually develop a pattern of feeding eight to twelve times in a 24-hour period. You should feed your baby whenever he or she shows signs of hunger.
You will know your baby is getting enough breast milk if he or she:
- is feeding at least 8 times a day (with some of those feeds occurring overnight)
- has at least 5 wet disposable nappies or 6 to 8 wet cloth nappies per day
- has 2 or more soft or runny bowel movements per day for around the first 6 weeks of life (babies have fewer bowel movements once they reach about 6 weeks)
- is gaining weight and growing as expected
- is alert when awake, and reasonably contented.
Building your milk supply
When it comes to breastfeeding, supply equals demand. The more you feed your baby, the more milk your breasts will make. Some tips for establishing and maintaining a good milk supply include:
let your baby feed until he or she stops sucking and swallowing and lets go of your breast, and then offer your second breast
offer your breast at night as well as during the day
avoid giving any extra feeds from bottles, as this reduces your baby’s need to suck at your breast and reduces your milk supply
avoid the use of dummies (pacifiers).
What should I buy for breastfeeding?
Buy at least two or three comfortable breastfeeding or nursing bras so your breasts are properly supported. These have hooks or zips that you can easily undo when your baby needs to feed.
Make sure that your bras fit properly, and that any flaps open completely. If only a small part of your breast is exposed, the bra may press on breast tissue and lead to blocked ducts or mastitis.
You may prefer to wait to buy bras until after your baby is born, to make sure that they will fit you perfectly. But bear in mind that getting out of the house with a newborn isn’t easy, so think about going in late pregnancy. Many department stores have staff who are trained to fit nursing bras after 36 weeks of pregnancy.
You may find that your breasts have a tendency to leak, as even another baby’s cry or the sight of a baby can stimulate milk flow. Keep a supply of washable or disposable breast pads handy, and consider buying a light-weight nursing bra for night-time, so you can wear breast pads while you sleep. If you’re planning to express your breastmilk, you may want to consider buying a breast pump.
Why Do Some Women Choose Not to Breastfeed?
- Some women don’t want to breastfeed in public.
- Some prefer the flexibility of knowing that a father or any caregiver can bottle-feed the baby any time.
- Babies tend to digest formula more slowly than breast milk, so bottle feedings may not be as frequent as breastfeeding sessions.
- The time commitment, and being “on-call” for feedings every few hours of a newborn’s life, isn’t feasible for every woman.
- Some women fear that breastfeeding will ruin the appearance of their breasts. But most breast surgeons would argue that age, gravity, genetics, and lifestyle factors like smoking all change the shape of a woman’s breasts more than breastfeeding does.