What’s Best About Breastfeeding

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It’s convenient, economical and custom designed to protect your baby’s health!

As a whole, Americans are moving toward living healthier lifestyles.  We are exercising, watching our cholesterol, consuming more herbs and making sound nutritional choices.  It makes sense that many parents are choosing to breastfeed their children.

Breastfeeding provides optimum nutrition for infants for at least the first year of life.  It has immunologic and other health benefits that last a lifetime and provides multiple positive benefits for the mother.  It is also environmentally friendly and economically sound.

Custom Made For Baby

Each mammal in the animal kingdom produces milk specific to their own species.  Human milk contains all the ingredients necessary for human infants like horses for their colts, cats for their kittens, etc.  It is a nutritionally complete diet with all the vitamins and minerals proportionate to our infants’ age and needs.  Artificial milk (formula) manufacturers try to replicate human milk ingredients using cow milk and soybean-based products.  Does the phrase “most like mother’s milk”, sound familiar? Human milk is the standard by which formulas are made.

Human milk changes in nutritional and immunologic composition throughout the course of lactation.  A newborn’s needs, for example, are much different from that of a 1-year-old.  At birth, our milk contains factors that stimulate brain growth, set up bacterial growth in the lower gut to aid in digestion and protect the upper respiratory tract from potential infection.  If a baby happens to come early (before 36 weeks gestation) the milk contains concentrated protective factors and will also be 30 percent higher in fat content with about four calories more per ounce than that of a term infant’s milk.  For all infants, antibodies the mother started passing on in the womb are present in her milk in ever-increasing numbers.  Each time Mom is exposed to a new “bug” she will begin to transfer protection to her baby via her milk even before she becomes sick.  If the baby gets ill at all, it is usually quite mild thanks to this extra help.

As nutritionally complete as mom’s milk is, a baby’s needs will gradually outgrow the contents near the end of the first half-year of life.  This works out well as the baby shows an interest and is now capable of digesting solids.  It is interesting to note that the baby also now has all the necessary immune system building blocks present at this age, although it will take five years for the immune system to reach maturity.  As the infant increases the intake of solids, the requirement for  mother’s milk decreases.  Conveniently, as mom’s milk supply starts to decline, the antibodies become concentrated.

Lifelong Protection

The benefits for the breastfeeding infant go far beyond the immune system.  Breastfeeding lowers the risk of juvenile diabetes and childhood cancers.  It directly affects the development of facial structures and speech and motor coordination.  Research has indicated that adults who were breastfed as children can expect lower cholesterol levels, fewer allergies and lower risk of Chrone’s disease, Graves disease and ulcerative colitis.

Mom Benefits, Too

The health benefits of breastfeeding are also shared by Mom.  As a mother nurses, she produces an all-important hormone called prolactin.  This is the hormone responsible for milk production.  It aids in recovery from the delivery process by temporarily ceasing menstruation and also gives Mom that  feeling of tranquil connectedness to her baby.  Oxytocin, another hormone released during breastfeeding, helps the uterus return more quickly to its normal size, preventing blood loss.  Other benefits to the nursing mother include protection from osteoporosis later in life and lowered risk of reproductive cancers, including ovarian and breast cancer.  The length of time a woman breastfeeds over the course of her life is directly reflected in statistics on reproductive cancers.

One of the greatly ignored benefits for the nursing mother is her ability to lose weight.  During pregnancy, the body prepares for lactation by storing up many of the necessary nutrients whether you intend to breastfeed or not.  The body mobilizes these nutrients for the production of milk,   hence, nature’s perfect diet!

Debunking Myths

As with most aspects of childbearing, parents usually receive plenty of unsolicited breastfeeding advice.  Some of this well-meaning advice may include the myths surrounding breastfeeding.  Mom’s dietary restrictions is one of these myths.  During the mid-part of this century, many rules and regulations were created for the breastfeeding woman to follow.  There were time restrictions to prevent soreness, the notion that you had to nurse both breasts every feeding, and even the notion that a baby could be allergic to its mother’s milk (a physical impossibility).

Keep in mind that all these restrictions (including dietary) came about during a time when the general view was that anything new or scientific had to be best.  Research has dispelled many of our food myths and turned up some interesting new facts.  Caffeine is OK in moderate doses (two cups of coffee per day or less) and some spices actually enhance the flavor of mom’s milk (garlic is one of these – babies love it).  Also, if you enjoy chocolate, have some – guilt free!  Breastfeeding today is by no means the huge self-sacrificing practice it once was.  It is, rather, an experience to be treasured and enjoyed.

It’s Economical

The economic implications of breastfeeding are obvious when you visit the baby aisle of the local grocery.  Current figures show an impact of $2,000 to $6,000 per infant for formula alone.  Don’t forget to add in the price of bottles and other associated items!  It goes without saying that breastfeeding is a nearly free, renewable resource that fits even the tightest of budgets.

For most moms, breastfeeding is a breeze.  For a few, complications can arise if the infant is premature or has a disorganized suckle or unusual palate.  Some moms stop breastfeeding earlier than necessary because they aren’t familiar with techniques for latching on and positioning or don’t have the information or equipment necessary for successful expressing of breast milk.  Often, moms are unaware that professional help is available via trained lactation consultants and support groups.

Jennifer Marsters is a registered nurse and an internationally board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC).

Keys to Success for the Breastfeeding Employed Mother

  • Focus on getting a good start with breastfeeding in the first three weeks.  If you have difficulties, get help early.
  • Try to extend your time off after delivery for as long as possible.  This will help to establish your supply.
  • Start expressing milk for a reserve supply about three to four weeks after delivery.
  • Choose a type of pump that will meet your immediate needs and will adapt to your longer-term needs later.  If possible, try one before you buy or rent. This will save money.
  • Choose a feeding system for your baby that is appropriate for his or her needs.  Don’t rely on advertisements.  Observe your baby, ask other mothers, and ask a lactation consultant.  You may need to try a couple of types of feeders before deciding on one that works.
  • Make sure your baby’s day care provider is knowledgeable about breastfed babies and/or is willing to work with your baby’s needs.
  • Educate your day care provider about proper care of your expressed milk. If you had to purchase breast milk, it would cost at least $2.50 per ounce. Your milk should be treated with the respect it deserves.
  • Be prepared for ups and downs in milk supply.  Changes in your pumping and breastfeeding schedule, diet and rest can affect your supply.  Babies’ appetites vary even when moms are not employed.  Read about increasing supply.

– Jane Kershaw, RN, IBCLC
Coordinator, Lactation Services

Your obstetrician, midwife or hospital can refer you to a lactation consultant.  Some county health departments have consultants on staff.

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