Breastfeeding and its many benefits
Breastfeeding has many benefits. On a health and nutritional level, breast milk is likely to provide all the nutrients your baby needs, and protects your baby from certain diseases. On a psychological level, breast-feeding promotes a special loving bond between you and your baby, and many women feel very emotional whilst breastfeeding. These benefits explain why The National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia) recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for six months, with gradual introduction of complementary food and continued breastfeeding thereafter.
Breast milk – the best source of nutrients for your baby
Breast milk is a complete food source for your baby for the first 6 months of life, and is especially important for premature or low birth weight babies. It contains all the essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, important enzymes and immune factors needed for your baby’s short-term and long-term health. Many of these ingredients cannot be easily duplicated by infant formula.
Through breastfeeding, you are also giving your newborn baby other health benefits including:
Reduced risk of diarrhoea, infections and some allergies
Better jaw and feeding development
Improved mental, visual, and psychomotor development
Breastfeeding is also good for the mother. Breastfeeding can assist recovery from childbirth in many ways, and it can reduce the risk of abnormal bleeding after delivery. Breastfeeding helps some mothers to lose the extra weight that they may have gained during pregnancy. The hormonal changes involved in lactation has the added benefit of acting as a contraceptive. However, this depends on how often and how long you breastfeed. As no contraceptive method is full proof, it is advised that you still use other birth control methods as a safeguard against an unwanted pregnancy. It is also advised that hormonal contraceptives such as the oral contraceptive pill should be avoided while breastfeeding unless advised by your doctor. These hormonal changes and the close skin-to-skin contact between you and your baby can help in the development of deep emotional bonds between mother and child. Last but not least, breastfeeding is more economical and convenient than using formula – another good reason to breastfeed.
Your diet during breastfeeding
The nutrients, enzymes, and immune factors in breast milk are all supplied by you, so it is very important to maintain a highly nutritious diet to meet you and your baby’s increasing requirements while you breastfeed. Good nutrition also helps with your recovery from the birth.
You may have read about celebrities promoting various diets that promise rapid weight loss so you will regain your pre-pregnancy body shape and weight. Such diets are an unfortunate by-product of our weight conscious society, and do not take your long-term health into account. You need to bear in mind that despite the pressure to follow such diets, any rapid weight loss programs, liquid diets, and weight loss medication are not recommended after childbirth, especially if you are breastfeeding. Restricting your food intake could contribute to health problems as it may reduce milk secretion and slow your recovery following childbirth.
Making breastfeeding work for you
Although breastfeeding has many benefits, some women can experience problems such as engorgement, not enough milk flow, sore or cracked nipples, and inflammation (mastitis).
Your breasts may feel hard, uncomfortable, and even painful for a few days after birth. This occurs when fluids (milk, blood, lymph fluids) accumulate and build up pressure in your milk ducts. This is known as engorgement. You can relieve the pressure and discomfort by feeding your baby more frequently. Between feeds, you can also express milk using a suitable breast pump. Gentle massage of the breasts during and between feeds can also help ease any discomfort.
Breastfeeding is not an exact science, with every baby being different. A newborn baby needs to be fed every 2-3 hours, sometimes up to 10-12 times a day. Frequent feeding can encourage milk production and flow. The positioning of you and your baby is also important. You need to make sure that your baby’s mouth is wide open, with your nipple as far back into your baby’s mouth as possible, and that your baby is both sucking and swallowing. You may wish to speak to a lactation consultant about breastfeeding techniques to determine which one best suits you. When it comes to different ways in which to breastfeed, you can never have too much information.
Also, try to relax – anxiety can reduce milk flow. Be sure to eat well, maintain your fluid intake, and get plenty of rest.
Sore, cracked, or bleeding nipples can make breastfeeding a painful experience. These are usually caused by improper positioning, and adjusting your breastfeeding technique can sooth cracked nipples. Sometimes the smallest change of positioning can make a world of difference. Cabbage leaves have been used traditionally to soften the skin and reduce cracking and soreness. Nipple protectors and creams may also help. Be careful however, as some creams may not be suitable for your baby (remember your baby may swallow some of the cream if it has not been fully absorbed into your skin). And try to avoid cream that may contain peanut oil. The use of creams containing peanut oil by breastfeeding mothers has been linked with peanut allergies in children.
If you develop fever, chills, flu-like symptoms, extreme fatigue, or localised symptoms such as a burning discomfort or pain, red streaks, or lumpy areas in your breasts, they may be inflamed. This condition is known as mastitis. It can be caused by infection entering the damaged nipple or from a blocked milk duct. Frequent massaging of the breast towards the nipple (top, underneath and the sides) can help to reduce the risk of developing mastitis. Consult your healthcare professional for advice.
If all else fails…..
If for some reason you cannot breastfeed, don’t feel guilty or that you’ve somehow “failed” your baby. Speak to your healthcare professional about a suitable formula for your baby. Unless there is no alternative, try to avoid using soy based formulas. Soy is related to the peanut family, and like peanut oil containing creams, its use has also been linked to peanut allergies.
Remember, there are many ways by which you can bond with your baby, such as through eye contact, through play, baby massages, and reading to your baby.
- http://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/. (accessed 28 Aug 2008)
- http://www.healthinsite.gov.au/topics/breastfeeding (accessed 28 Aug 2008)
- http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Breastfeeding_and_your_diet (accessed 28 Aug 2008)