The importance of breastfeeding
It's good for you and your baby.
February 6, 2020
Breastfeeding is considered the best source of nutrition for most newborns, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A number of experts advise only breastfeeding for the first six months. They also advise continued breastfeeding for up to one year along with the introduction of solid foods. Experts include:
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- World Health Organization
- United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund
Breastfeeding has many benefits
Unless moms or babies have a health condition that keep them from breastfeeding, most health care professionals urge women to try breastfeeding, even if only for a short time.
Benefits for the baby include lower chances of:
- Childhood asthma
- Eczema (red and itchy skin)
- Ear infections
- Digestive infections
- Conditions like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure
Benefits for the mother include:
- Positive health outcomes
- Lower chances of breast and ovarian cancer
- Lower chances of type 2 diabetes
Breast milk adapts to baby’s needs
The nutrients in breast milk change to meet your newborn’s needs. As your baby grows, the amount of protein, fat, sugar and water in breast milk changes. Colostrum is the first milk your body produces during pregnancy and just after birth.
This milk is rich in nutrients and antibodies. It helps develop your baby’s digestive and immune systems, which fight infections and other diseases.
After the first few weeks, colostrum develops into mature milk with the right combination of nutrients to support your baby’s growth and development.
Do what’s right for you
While breastfeeding may be considered the best way to feed your baby, that doesn’t mean it’s easy or right for everyone. Breastfeeding takes a major commitment. Moms need time and practice to learn the techniques that work best for them.
What everyone does seem to agree on is that supporting breastfeeding moms is crucial. It’s helpful during pregnancy, after delivery, and for the weeks and months that follow.
Learning to breastfeed may come easily. You may also need help learning how to:
- Sit and hold your baby comfortably to nurse
- Manage nursing bras and clothing
- Nurse in public
- Pump breast milk when you’re away from your baby
There are many places to turn to for support. These include your primary care provider, obstetrician, pediatrician, a lactation nurse or specialist, or a breastfeeding support group.
Nurse at the first signs of hunger
Watch for cues that your baby is hungry — stirring, rooting, putting her hands in her mouth. Avoid waiting until your baby cries. Crying is often a late hunger cue and having a baby who is upset can make nursing more difficult.
Start with a regular schedule
In the first six weeks, try to nurse about every two hours during the day and every four hours at night. This helps establish a good milk supply. Wake the baby if needed.
Sometimes babies will nurse more often in a short period of time. This is called cluster feeding and is completely normal. Once your baby has established a pattern of regular weight gain, you can rely on baby’s hunger cues instead of a set schedule.
Track weight gain and diapers
Breastfed newborns gain about six ounces a week. They also usually have three to four dirty diapers and five to six wet diapers per day. If your baby isn’t gaining weight as expected, talk with your doctor.
Ensure proper latch and positioning
To help establish a breastfeeding routine, use a common holding position that works for you. To help your baby latch on correctly:
- Hold your baby close, the nose near the nipple and the lower lip and jaw just below it.
- Wait until baby’s mouth is open wide before moving onto your breast.
- Teach baby to open wide by moving her toward your breast and touching her top lip against the nipple.
- Move slightly away and repeat until the baby’s mouth opens wide with tongue forward.
- Use your hand to support the base of your baby’s head.
Ask yourself two important questions about positioning and latch. Is it working for you and your baby? Is it comfortable and pain free? If so, your baby’s position is probably just right.
Switch the breast you offer first
This stimulates milk supply and helps your body to produce the most breastmilk possible. To help you remember which breast to start with at your next feeding, consider moving a safety pin from one side of your nursing bra to the other.
Once you get familiar with breastfeeding, you’ll know which side feels fuller and which side to offer first.
Let your baby nurse as long as she wants
At each feeding, you produce a more watery foremilk at the beginning and a higher-fat hindmilk toward the end. Allow your baby to nurse until she’s satisfied (typically no more than 30 to 40 minutes). That way, she’ll get the benefits of both types of milk.
Breastfeeding is a great way to begin the special bond between you and your newborn and make sure she gets off to the healthiest start possible.
While many agree that breastfeeding is the gold standard in infant nutrition, it takes time and practice and may not be right for everyone. Be sure to ask for help before your baby is born and during her first weeks. That way, you’ll make the most of your time together.
By Aisha Jimoh Reuler, MD, FAAP, CLE
The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.