Breastfeeding is nature’s way of providing newborns with a powerful and complete source of nutrition. Breastfeeding is also known to help mothers recover quickly from the many ‘side effects’ of childbirth. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breast milk as the exclusive diet for an infant during the first 6 months. Thereafter, breastfeeding – as recommended by many – may be continued for a year, along with other kinds of food such as fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins. However, breastfeeding remains a personal decision at the end of the day, and many mothers opt out of it, favouring alternative sources of ‘food’ that are available in the market for various reasons like lack of time, inconvenience, medical reasons or the disruption it may cause to physical aesthetics.
Breast milk – cooked in nature’s own kitchen, so to speak – is the ideal meal for a newborn. The big importance of breastfeeding stems from the fact that it is naturally packed with every conceivable nutrition a baby’s body requires during the first six months – with the exception of Vitamin D. The best part is that the composition of mother’s milk continuously adapts to the baby’s needs – especially during the first few months – to match the newborn’s changing nutritional demands.
The importance of breastfeeding is manifest in many other ways. Break milk, for instance, contains antibodies (immunoglobulins) that flow from the mother’s system to the baby’s, strengthening the newborn’s defense mechanisms and helping it defend itself against bacteria, viruses and various diseases.
Breastfed babies tend to be less afflicted by certain maladies and medical conditions such as respiratory ailments, diarrhea, middle-ear infection, common cold related infections, certain allergies, gut or intestinal infections, Childhood Leukemia, Inflammatory bowel disease, eczema and celiac disease. Records confirm that such babies will also end up visiting the doctor or the hospital fewer number of times than babies who are not breastfed.
The importance of breastfeeding extends well beyond. For example, babies who have grown up on breast milk run a lower risk for SIDS – an acronym for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – during the first 12 months of their life.
Babies who have been not been formula-fed (and have grown up on a steady diet of breast milk) tend to grow up with better body weight and lower chances of obesity.
The importance of breastfeeding when it comes to diabetes management is well known. It has been noticed that babies who have grown up on their mother’s milk are less prone to have diabetes. This applies to both forms of Diabetes – Type 1 and Type 2.
While studies are afoot to confirm a co-relation beyond doubt, babies who are breastfed have been known to have higher IQ’s than their counterparts (who have grown on mother’s milk substitutes).
The importance of breastfeeding also manifests itself in the unique relationship a mother and a child share. During the act of breastfeeding, a baby will feel an intense sense of comfort and closeness with its mother – a truly ‘life defining’ experience that can translate into a better mother-child bond throughout the lifetime.
The importance of breastfeeding isn’t restricted to the infant. The mother stands to benefit substantially from the experience, too. Here are some of the advantages of breastfeeding for mothers:
The hormone called Oxytocin – released during breastfeeding – can expedite and facilitate the process of uterine contractions, helping the uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size.
Feeding the infant breast milk burns calories for the mother. As a result, mothers who have breastfed their babies are able to shed the excess weight (that they had picked up during pregnancy) faster.
Mothers who have exclusively breastfed their infants have been known to experience lowered risk of certain conditions such as ovarian cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis and depression. Those who have breastfed for one or two years during the course of their life have also exhibited a reduction (by upto 50%) when it comes to risk of ailments such as heart conditions and diabetes (type 2), as well as for high levels of blood pressure, triglyceride and cholesterol.
Breastfeeding has been known to provide a ‘temporary break’ to mothers from the cycles of ovulation and menstruation. You may consider it nature’s way of ensuring that there’s a certain time gap between pregnancies (a bit like ‘natural birth control’), and that ‘quality time’ between mother and child is not interrupted.
While breastfeeding brings with it a wide range of benefits for both baby and mother, there are certain situations or conditions during which you must not breastfeed your infant – or, at the very least, consult a professional for advice. So mothers who are have tuberculosis, are undergoing chemotherapy (for cancer), are on medication (for arthritis, Parkinson’s Disease or migraine headaches), have HIV or use illegal drugs such as marijuana or cocaine – are normally advised by medical professionals to abstain from breastfeeding.
That apart, if the baby has galactosemia (a rare condition where the baby is intolerant to the natural sugar present in breast milk), breastfeeding must not be done.
One must also refrain from breastfeeding if one experiences bleeding or unusual discharge, or if the breasts turn abnormally hard, swollen or red.
Mothers may note that the common cold is not passed to the baby via breast milk, and should not be a reason to stop breastfeeding.
This is a common condition to experience during the first few weeks of breastfeeding. Some of the ways to ‘cure’ the sensation is to ensure the baby ‘latches’ on to the nipples properly, use one finger to break the suction effect after every feeding session, ensure sufficient breastfeeding to ensure that the milk-ducts are empty after one has fed the infant, letting the nipples ‘air dry’ between successive feeding sessions and pressing an ice-bag or coolant against the nipples when one is not breastfeeding. Do note that babies tend to suck harder initially, so the condition may naturally improve with time.
This may happen when one is breastfeeding. It’s best to apply Lanolin on and around the nipples after each session – but do remember to wash it off before starting the next feeding session. Using cotton bra pads – and swapping (changing) them frequently – may help as well. It’s best to stay away from lotions that have alcohol in them, soaps or perfumed creams – since they may leave the nipples drier and more cracked.
This can be a common concern for mothers. Signs and symptoms that your baby is not getting enough milk can be insufficient stool and urine (ie, infrequent ‘dirty’ or wet diapers), dehydration (manifest in dry mouth or dark urine) and slow weight gain. If you are changing more than 6 diapers a day, then it is safe to assume that your baby is getting sufficient milk.
The breast’s production of milk is naturally linked to the demand (‘hunger’) of the baby, so one must not add market supplements to the diet if a baby is on breast milk, and plain water must be avoided as well.
Mothers who are about to breastfeed must note that the frequency or duration of each breastfeeding session, the baby not letting go, the baby waking up at night, the inability to pump sufficient milk or the size of the breasts have little to do with the amount of milk that is produced, or naturally needed by the baby.
Certain medications, anatomical issues, insufficient glandular tissue, hormonal birth control measures, jaundice, breast surgery, the action of herbs, the use of pacifiers and stress & anxiety can all – in various extents – affect one’s ability to produce milk.
Some of the ways of increasing one’s milk supply are more skin contact with the baby (which can trigger hormones and, by extension, the supply of milk) and relaxation therapy (such as listening to your favorite music).
In the eventuality that a mother is not able to generate sufficient breast milk, breast pumps, Supplemental Nursing Systems (SNS) or professional help may be sought.
Some mothers prefer to extract breast milk by hand or pump and store it in a bottle for later (ie, ‘anytime use’). This may need some practice. Breast milk can be safely stored in the refrigerator for 2 days. Make sure you don’t heat it in a microwave before use, as this may destroy some of its immunity boosting qualities. It’s better to thaw it in a bowl of water.
Nipples that don’t just outward (when one pinches the areola – the dark ring around the nipple) may get in the way of the breastfeeding experience. Consult a professional (such as a lactation expert) if you face a similar problem.
Sometimes, a milk duct can become plugged or blocked, and one of its symptoms can be a sore spot on the breast. A gentle massage or warm compresses may cause the blockage to open. More frequent sessions of breastfeeding can also solve the problem.
If bacteria makes its way into the breast – usually via a cracked nipple post a breastfeeding session – it can bring on fever, fatigue and other symptoms that are similar to Flu. Normally, a dose of antibiotics can help bring relief. It is all right to continue to breastfeed during the antibiotic medication phase. Applying moist heat to the sore areas a few times a day can bring relief as well.
An average lactating mother needs about 500 more calories than a mother who isn’t breastfeeding. It is important to follow a proper diet that includes sufficient proteins (including meat, fish and poultry), dairy products, seeds, nuts, beans, dark-green leafy vegetables, whole grains (including oats) and plenty of water.
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