Just as your body is designed to carry your child throughout pregnancy, undergo labor, and give birth, it is also made to nourish your child after she is born. Not only a biological imperative, the benefits of breastfeeding have been proven through years of scientific research. Containing a powerful mixture of nutrients (including proteins and vitamins), breast milk provides your child with all of the nutrients he or she needs to thrive, and requires no supplementation unless medically indicated.
Keeping Baby Healthy
The most important benefit of breastfeeding your newborn is in the physical health benefits he will receive. In addition to the ideal nutrition a growing newborn requires, breast milk contains antibodies that help her brand new immune system fight off bacteria and viruses, and has been shown in studies to help lower your baby’s risk of developing chronic conditions like allergies and asthma. Breastfeeding as your baby ages can become more difficult due to work commitments, but even six months of exclusive breastfeeding results in babies with fewer respiratory ailments, ear infections, and bouts of diarrhea, along with fewer trips to the doctor and hospitalizations.
Research even shows benefits that continue in life after your breastfed child has been weaned. Infants that are breastfed are less likely to become overweight children, and some scientists believe that the risk of certain cancers and diabetes are lowered with breastfeeding, but require more research to prove these links.
After the health benefits that breastfeeding will bring your baby, the bonding that it encourages between you and your child can not be overstated. The skin-to-skin touching and eye contact that occur during breastfeeding help your baby feel safe and secure in your presence. Breastfeeding mothers have an added ability to calm and soothe their child in stressful situations by invoking this safe and secure environment anywhere they go.
Benefits To The Mother
Breastfeeding can seem intimidating and physically taxing to expectant mothers, but the practice comes with benefits to you as well as your baby. Breastfeeding releases the hormone oxytocin, which comes with a variety of positive effects. Oxytocin is known as a “feel good” hormone, and helps to facilitate bonding and positive feelings in you as well as your baby. This amazing hormone also helps your uterus shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size, which can help reduce the risk of uterine bleeding after birth. If you’re concerned about losing some of the weight that you gained during pregnancy, breastfeeding can burn between 300-500 calories a day as your body expends extra energy in making breastmilk, and passes some of the calories you consume right through to your baby. You’ll also save money by not purchasing formula (which can cost up to $100 per month), and save time not having to worry about sterilizing nipples and warming bottles before each feeding.
The ABCs of Breastfeeding
For new or expectant mothers who feel overwhelmed at the prospect of breastfeeding, these ABCs provide a helpful starting point.
Awareness: Look for signs of hunger from your baby (smacking lips, opening and closing mouth, and sucking on lips or fingers are often early cues), and feed before fussing or crying begins.
Be Patient: Allow you baby to breastfeed for as long as she would like, and don’t hurry through feedings. A typical feeding can last for 10-20 minutes on each breast.
Comfort: Your physical comfort during breastfeeding is important not only for your well being, but in helping milk to flow with ease. Find a comfortable place to feed your baby, and use pillows to support your head, neck and arms.
Getting Help With Feeding
Images of mothers breastfeeding usually picture the act as simple, and serene. Social media can be a helpful tool in connecting with other mothers, but can also contribute to feeling like you’re alone in having a less-than-perfect life. Most women do need help and coaching in learning how to breastfeed, and there are nurses, doctors, lactation consultants, doulas and friends who are willing to provide help and guidance. The La Leche League is an international organization committed to helping breastfeeding mothers, and their hotline at 1-877-4 LA LECHE (452-5324) or website www.llli.org, are invaluable resources to anyone looking for support.