You have probably heard the saying, "Breast is Best." But why is breastmilk the best source of nutrition for your baby? What are the benefits of breastfeeding? When choosing to breastfeed, it is important for you to understand the components of breastmilk, the benefits of breastfeeding for you personally and your baby, and resources to assist you during your breastfeeding year(s).
Understanding Biologic Specificity
Each milk has what is called biologic specificity. Biologic specificity means that every species of mammal creates a milk that is specific for the optimal growth and development of the babies of that species. Human milk contains special nutrients that promote human brain growth. Continued research proves that breastmilk is the best food for babies of all ages. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastmilk for the first six months of a baby's life. Breast milk contains about four hundred nutrients not present in any other infant nutrient. Breastmilk is safer because it doesn't have to be mixed and is less likely to be contaminated. The baby does not have to wait for food as it is always the right temperature, age-specific mixture and is always as available as mother's breast. Studies suggest that babies who have been breastfed may be more intelligent and have fewer illnesses as they grow up.
Maternal benefits of breastfeeding include more rapid uterine involution (the return of the uterus to its prepregnant shape is influenced by the hormone oxytocin, which is stimulated by breastfeeding), closer relationship to the baby and a feeling of satisfaction in being the sole source of food for the baby, convenience and lack of expense.
After the birth of the baby, estrogen and progesterone decrease and levels of prolactin increase. Prolactin release is essential to milk production. The first nutrition the baby receives is called colostrum and it is higher in protein and lower in fat and lactose than mature milk. It also contains antibodies that protect the baby from illnesses as well as a laxative ingredient to help rid the baby's body of meconium. When the baby suckles at the breast, oxytocin is released by the posterior pituitary and the letdown reflex occurs.
Components of Breastmilk
Dr. William Sears describes the components of human milk: " The fat content of your milk changes during a feeding, at various times during the day, and as your infant grows, adjusting like a self-formulating fuel to the energy needs of the baby. At the start of a feeding, your foremilk is low in fat, like skim milk. As the feeding progresses, the fat steadily increases until a baby gets the "cream" the higher-fat hindmilk. This milk contains a built-in satiety factor that gives your infant a feeling of contented fullness, and baby stops eating.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that Moms begin breastfeeding as soon as possible following the baby's birth. Newborns should be nursed on demand or whenever they show signs of hunger including mouthing, sucking or rooting behaviors or increased awake/alert states. Crying is considered a late hunger cue. Newborns typically need to nurse between 8 to 12 times a day, until satisfied. There are growth spurts at 2 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months where Baby may nurse more vigorously and more often. This is not a sign that milk production is decreasing. Nursing infants should not be given any supplements (water, glucose water, formula, etc.) unless there is a medical indication. Supplements are rarely needed when breastfeeding is properly accomplished. Pacifiers and bottles should be avoided -- at least until breastfeeding is well established to avoid nipple/flow confusion.
So You've Chosen To Breastfeed…
The length of time breastfeeding varies with mothers, babies and geography. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, starting solids with breastfeeding for the rest of Baby's first year. Mom's schedule and Baby's desires are a consideration. It is interesting to note that it is not unusual to see women in other countries nurse babies for 2-3 years.
Breastfeeding is a learned habit for the baby and a learned skill for Mom. It is best to gain valuable knowledge through a breastfeeding class taught by a certified lactation consultant or IBCLC. Another excellent resource is your local La Leche League group, www.lalecheleague.com. There are situations such as going back to work/pumping, adopted babies, twins/triplets, prematurity or infant situations (such as cleft palate) where a La Leche League leader and/or a lactation consultant may be invaluable. They will be able to assist you with information and support on issues such as proper latching or positioning. Check with your local La Leche League leader, the baby's place of birth, or your obstetrician or pediatrician for the name of a lactation consultant to assist you.
Many mothers prefer to sit or lie down to breastfeed their babies. No matter which position you choose, it should be a restful and relaxing time with a glass of water available. You should be able to hold your baby without strain and concentrate on this very precious gift you are giving your baby. The infant should be at the level of the breast and not pull down on it or have to strain to reach the breast. One of the best suggestions for positioning is "baby to breast and chest to chest." This means that the baby and the breast are on the same level and both the baby's chest and the your chest are together. The baby should be able to grasp the nipple and most of the areola. If only the nipple is used to breastfeed, inadequate milk flow may occur as well as sore nipples. Utilizing the rooting reflex to help the baby turn his/her head toward you and open the mouth can help get the baby on the breast properly.
Remember that there are resources to assist you with breastfeeding. Through local La Leche League members and leaders, lactation consultants, your childbirth educator, postpartum doula, birth doula, and nursing moms, you have a strong support system right at your fingertips.
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