The Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breast milk is the perfect food for your baby. It is really quite incredible. Your body produces milk that has all the nutrition to sustain the healthy growth and crucial early development of your child in its first year of life, but there is more to nursing than simply providing food to your baby. Breastfeeding is a wonderful way to nourish and bond with your baby while giving it a legacy of health advantages that will last into adulthood.
Breast Milk is Mother Nature’s Perfect Recipe
As your baby grows, your milk will change to suit its evolving needs. Colostrum transitions into white, thin milk that becomes fattier and more nutritious as your baby’s appetite increases. For the first six months of life breast milk has absolutely everything your baby requires for sustaining healthy growth, but it does much more than simply feed your baby. Breast milk supports complex brain development, helps build the immune system, and contributes incomparably to the development of a healthy gut biome. In the first several months after your baby is born, breast milk lays the foundation for a lifetime of health.
The Advantages of Breastfeeding
There is a consensus among health organizations that breastfeeding is the best nutritional option for babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that ideally all babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life and should continue up to 12 months as they are introduced to solid foods. Breastfeeding can continue after the first year of age, although the nutritional benefits decrease after that point.
Breastfeeding has many benefits for both mothers and babies. Breast milk not only provides the perfectly balanced nutrition that your baby needs at every stage of its early development, but it also adapts to your baby’s needs from day today. If your baby is sick, breast milk can change its composition to help fight illnesses, so breastfed babies often get sicker less often and recover faster. And since the milk takes on the flavors of what the mother eats, it can also develop your baby’s palate and can prepare it for eating a healthy variety of solid foods.
There is also an important emotional component to breastfeeding. When women nurse, their bodies release a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin plays a significant role in human social bonding and helps mothers and babies establish important emotional connections. Nursing also requires new mothers to stop and enjoy some quiet time cuddling with their baby. In the first few hectic weeks and months of motherhood, this bonding experience is invaluable.
Breastfeeding provides a legacy of benefits that extend into your child’s later life. Studies show that breastfeeding reduces rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), childhood obesity, ear infection, eczema, respiratory problems, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel diseases. Breastfeeding can also decrease occurrences of autoimmune disorders and some cancers.
Breastfeeding benefits babies, but it has health advantages for mothers, too. Nursing releases hormones that cause the uterus to contract and return more quickly to its pre-pregnancy size, and it requires extra calories to make that nutrient-rich milk your baby needs, so it can help new mothers lose their pregnancy weight. Most beneficially, though, breastfeeding reduces a woman’s risk of ovarian and breast cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Breastfeeding and Proper Nutrition
It is always important to maintain a well-balanced diet, but it is especially important if you are breastfeeding. Making milk for your baby is calorie-intensive and it uses the nutrients in your body, so a healthy diet can ensure that both you and your baby are receiving adequate nutrition.
Your body will prioritize your baby’s nourishment over your own, so if you are not getting appropriate amounts of vitamins and minerals from your diet, your body will draw on its reserves to make breast milk, which can compromise your personal health. For that reason, it is not recommended that nursing mothers diet after giving birth. It is best to allow your body to lose the pregnancy weight at a natural rate by combining healthy eating with breastfeeding and moderate exercise.
Since your body draws on your own diet to make breast milk, breastfeeding moms should try to eat as nutritious and balanced a diet as possible. Avoid highly processed foods and instead focus on eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats like those found in olive oil and nuts, and lean proteins. Breastfeeding mothers should also stay hydrated. Drink lots of water, but limit caffeine and alcohol consumption.
If you require prescription medication while breastfeeding, be sure to discuss its safety with your healthcare provider and always refrain from using tobacco products and recreational drugs while nursing.
Struggling with Breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is a unique experience for every mother and baby, and sometimes it can be difficult. Some women may struggle with maintaining their milk supply, and babies occasionally have trouble latching onto the breast. The most important thing to remember is to relax. Like everything else, there is a learning curve to breastfeeding, and while some mothers and babies take to it immediately, others need time to learn how to do it successfully. Be patient with yourself and your baby. It may be physically painful at first, but your body will adapt and for many women and babies, nursing becomes second nature.
If you and your baby are struggling with breastfeeding, talk to your doctor and check with a lactation consultant who can assist you and your baby with learning how to breastfeed together. If you are not producing enough milk after the first week or two, ask your doctor if you can take an herbal supplement or a prescription medication to help increase it. However, be advised that supplements and medication are not substitutes for a proper nursing technique and frequent feedings. If you are still concerned with producing an adequate amount of milk to satisfy your baby or need to supplement nursing with a formula for practical reasons, the formula will not reverse the benefits of breast milk.