Many women want to breastfeed; however, disappointingly, often women find that what’s supposed to be natural and “second-nature” may not be so easy. Therefore, too often women don’t breastfeed or discontinue breastfeeding out of frustration or lack of “know-how”. To prevent this, pregnant women should educate themselves about breastfeeding by reading books and consulting a La Leche League mother’s support group to learn more about the process and resources for effective breastfeeding. Women who wish to breastfeed should alert their doctor, partner or spouse, friends and family so they can be aware and assist with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is an emotional, intellectual, and physical experience that should be shared by all that will love and care for a new baby.
Within the first weeks of pregnancy, a woman’s body physically prepares for an expectant baby by releasing hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. These hormones cause the breasts to enlarge as breast tissue and ducts differentiate in preparation for milk production. By the final weeks of pregnancy, an expectant mother is equipped to begin breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is recommended within 30 minutes to an hour after delivery, if possible. For the best chance of adhering to this recommendation, pregnant women should seek help from a lactation nurse. While in the hospital, a lactation nurse can help ensure that a baby is latching correctly and obtaining the proper amount of milk as this will be essential to effective, long term breastfeeding and adequate growth of the baby. Also, this early breastfeeding jump-starts the process by signaling the breast to produce a pre-milk, called colostrum which is high in fat and protein and assists with digestion. Over time, the contents of breast milk change, but it consistently confers significant health benefits to the baby and mom.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life and incorporating foods (with milk) thereafter for the first year of life. The World Health Organization also recommends breastfeeding for the first year of life. Breast milk is the recommended source of nutrition because it contains essential vitamins, proteins and antibodies to help babies grow and resist illnesses. Breastfeeding is also advantageous for mothers because it burns calories and reduces the size of the uterus, leading to weight loss and a return to a pre-pregnancy size and shape. Breastfeeding confers the essential benefit of bonding between baby and mom.
For the first few weeks after birth, while a mother tries to develop her milk supply, she should allow her baby to breastfeed on demand, approximately every two hours during the day & every four hours at night. Keeping track of feedings will help identify if a baby is getting enough to eat. Also, being flexible to allow a baby to try different positions to find the best one for optimal feeding is also needed.
Given the physical and emotional demands of breastfeeding, it’s very important for new moms to maintain healthy eating habits and continue learning what’s needed to best care for a new baby.
Although there are numerous benefits of breastfeeding, there are a few instances when breastfeeding should not be practiced. Generally, if there is a health risk to the mother, it can be spread to the baby. Thus, if a mother’s immune system is compromised as in the case of HIV or AIDS, her baby is also at increased risk of harm by ingesting her breast milk. If there is a question, women should consult their doctor.