One of the best things a mother can do for her newborn is to breastfeed. Breastfeeding is considered the best nutritional source for babies and it also helps fight infections. Breastfeeding also has a number of benefits for the mother who can bond with the baby through this wonderful experience.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
The benefits of breastfeeding are countless for both baby and mother. This nutritious diet makes the baby grow healthier and stronger, and it also helps the mother become healthier and avoid certain diseases, such as cancer.
Benefits for Babies
Nutrients - Breast milk contains specific nutrients such as, carbohydrates, three different types of proteins, fats and water. In fact, in the first six months of their lives, breastfed babies do not need any additional food or water.
Antibodies - There are several antibodies present in breast milk that help an infant fight against various infections caused by bacteria and viruses, such as diarrhoea, pneumonia, ear infections and other gastrointestinal or respiratory infections. In premature babies, breastfeeding helps lower incidences of sepsis and meningitis.
Immune System - Babies taking breastmilk have been found to have a better immune system than those on formulas, or other milk sources. They can fight infections better and respond better to immunisation for polio, influenza, tetanus and diphtheria.
Intellectual Development - Since the baby gets a very nutritious diet from breastfeeding, his growth and development is rapid. Research has shown that breastfed infants often display early signs of intelligence and dexterity.
Benefits for the Mother
Improved Health - For women, breastfeeding is a great way to lose some extra calories without even trying, while keeping their baby well fed. Nursing helps you to burn calories and lose that baby weight.
Breastfeeding is also a good way to help the uterus get back to its original shape, due to the release of the hormones prolactin and oxytocin. Some nursing moms may feel uterine contractions and cramps while feeding.
Cancer - The likelihood of breastfeeding mothers contracting breast or ovarian cancer is much lower than for those who do not breastfeed. Some studies have also shown that the longer a woman breastfeeds, the lower her chances are of developing pre-menopausal breast cancer.
Ovulation - Exclusive breastfeeding delays the return of normal ovulation, which can help some women to avoid getting pregnant again right away. However, while your ovulation may become irregular while breastfeeding, it still wise to resume your previous method of birth control once you decide that you're ready to engage in sexual activity again.
Bonding - Physical contact is very important for a newborn, helping him to feel comforted and secure. When the mother breastfeeds, it is the best time for both mother and baby to bond and relax in one another's presence.
Cost - Since breast milk is free, breastfeeding means saving the cost of bottles, and formula. In the long run, as the baby grows up to be stronger and have a healthier immune system, breastfeeding may also save you and your child the cost of frequent illness and medications.
Can Breastfeeding Become Harmful?
Though a mother may wish to breastfeed, there are circumstances when it is not advisable. There are also some cases where what you eat or drink has an effect on the child and it is best to avoid those things while breastfeeding.
- If a woman is HIV positive, it is best to avoid breastfeeding as the virus may pass through the milk to the child.
- Some babies may be born with a condition called galactosemia, which means that they are unable to tolerate breast, or any animal, milk because they cannot digest the sugar galactose. A special diet free of lactose and galactose is recommended.
- Using drugs such as cocaine can pass into breast milk and cause serious damage to a baby. Other drugs, such as marijuana, may disrupt sleep, make the child irritable and induce vomiting.
- Though most medications, such as ibuprofen, antihistamines, insulin and thyroid medications are okay to take while breastfeeding, some medicines can be harmful to the baby's immune system. Medications you should never take while breastfeeding include radioactive drugs, antimetabollites and cyclophosphamide. Please consult your doctor before taking any medications while you are breastfeeding.
- Some babies may get reactions or allergies to something you eat, such as spicy food or dairy products. The problem may go away as soon as you stop eating the offending food.
- Nursing mothers should not smoke, as nicotine may reduce the supply of milk and increase the chances of sudden infant death syndrome.
- Alcohol may lead to low weight gain, interrupted motor development in the child and intake should be limited to very occasional, light drinking, if at all.
Breast Feeding Problems
There are some common breastfeeding problems and challenges felt by almost all moms, such as breastfeeding in public. Modern conveniences and avoiding shyness are more than helpful in these circumstances.
Returning to Work - Working mothers may find it a bit inconvenient to return to work after the baby is born, especially if they are breastfeeding. Since breast milk helps the baby to grow stronger, in the long run breastfeeding can allow you to work regularly with fewer leaves of absence for the baby's sicknesses, or doctor appointments.
Breast pumps are available, and can help you to express and store your milk while you are away from your baby. Many employers have set up private areas where mothers can pump comfortably. After pumping, milk can be refrigerated or left at room temperature for up to six hours. Many pumps come with a compartment for breastmilk storage.
Before you plan to go back to work, it is good to introduce your baby to bottle-feeding as early as 4 week so that he will not reject it later. Your partner, or another caregiver can then give it to him while you are away.
Breastfeeding in Public - Though some women find it a bit embarrassing to feed in public, there are some simple tricks that can help you. Try to wear loose fitting, button front clothing, which can be opened easily. Drape a blanket over your breast and the baby and most people will not realise that you are nursing. Some stores provide a lounge or a women's room where you can comfortably feed the infant. A nursing cover or a baby sling can also be useful.
Sore Nipples - This can be cause by poor positioning of the baby when he is only sucking the nipples and not the areola, the dark part around the nipple. If you have this problem do not avoid breastfeeding, as it will lead to overfilling of the breast.
Try to get the baby in the correct position each time he feeds. If your nipples are very sore, try changing the position every time the baby nurses, as this will put pressure on different parts.
After the feeding is done, you can apply a little milk to the nipples, as it will help heal them faster. Air-drying is also a good way to heal sore nipples. Wear loose fitting clothes, do not use soap, change your nursing bras often and eat healthy.
Sore Breasts - This condition is also known as engorgement and occurs mainly when feeding is irregular, leading to overly full breasts. Some causes of sore breast are:
- Poor positioning
- Infrequent or limited feeding times
- Giving water, juice or formula instead of breast milk (causing child to not be hungry)
- Changed breastfeeding schedule
- Baby having weak suction
- Nipple damage
- Over abundant milk supply
- Fatigue stress, anaemia
- Breast infection
The best ways to cope with the problem are:
- Regulate feeding times and correct the positioning
- Hand pumping a little milk before feeding to soften the breast
- Wearing a well fitted nursing bra
- Cold compressing with a cabbage leaf may relieve pain
- At work, pump milk at the same time as you would have fed your baby
- Get enough rest and nutritious food
Weaning is the process of gradually introducing solid food, water and juices to the baby. For the first six months of an infant's life, breastmilk is ideally the only food he takes, but gradually you can withdraw milk from his diet and introduce other semi-solid foods, or juices. The stage where he relies entirely on adult food and no longer breastfeeds is known as fully weaned.
Most mammals become lactose intolerant after weaning, meaning that they can no longer digest milk, but many people continue to produce the enzyme lactase and can continue to consume the milk that we get from domestic animals.
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For more information about breastfeeding and your baby check out our breastfeeding videos.