Breastfeeding is the healthiest, most natural way to feed your baby. Each mother's breast milk is uniquely formulated for her own baby and is full of infection-fighting cells and protein that will help keep a baby both happy and healthy. Breastfeeding can be enjoyable for both of you. It can take some practice at first, but there are many, many reasons to give breastfeeding your best effort.
Why Breast Is Best -- The Benefits for Baby
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies for at least the first year of life, and exclusively for the first six months. There are good reasons for such a strong policy statement. Breastfed children are less likely to have ear infections, allergies, vomiting, diarrhea, pneumonia, juvenile diabetes, and meningitis. New data also suggest that breast milk enhances your baby's brain growth. Breast milk is easier for babies to digest than formula, cow's milk, or goat's milk. It contains all the right minerals and the right balance of nutrients. And breast milk is convenient: It's free, and it's always ready when your baby is hungry, with no preparation involved. The health benefits continue for as long as a mother and her baby want to keep breastfeeding.
The Benefits for Mom
Breastfeeding provides definite health benefits for you as well as your baby. Besides being an ideal way to closely bond with your new child, nursing helps stimulate hormones that shrink your uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size. According to some studies, women who breastfeed are 50 percent less likely to get pre-menopausal breast cancer, and are at lowered risk for ovarian cancer and osteoporosis as well.
Breastfeeding also helps you lose weight after pregnancy because it uses up the special kind of fat you put on with pregnancy before it becomes an established part of your body shape. Nursing helps you lose that weight at exactly the right pace. You don't want to lose too much weight right after giving birth, though. Nursing women need an extra 5 to 10 pounds over their pre-pregnancy weight to keep their body healthy while they nourish their child. If you lose weight too rapidly, it could hurt your milk supply when your baby has a growth spurt and needs to eat more. Those extra pounds will slip away naturally over the first six months.
What to Expect at First
Your breast milk will come in a few days after your baby is born. Until then, your breasts will be busy producing colostrum for your baby to drink instead. This thick, yellowish substance is full of protein and antibodies that will help your baby fight off diseases. Colostrum is intended to be your baby's very first food and his first "immunization" against diseases. He has lots of stored water and fat to use while he takes in this precious material. His tummy can only hold a teaspoon of liquid at this age, so he doesn't need a lot to fill it.
Your body was made for breastfeeding, and your baby was made to nurse, but that doesn't mean you won't need a little help to get started. While you're still in the hospital, someone should help you put your baby to your breast as soon as possible, help your baby latch onto your nipple, and show you how to tell when he's nursing correctly. Ideally, breastfeeding right after delivery helps get things started. If you still need help after you go home, ask the staff at the hospital whether they can recommend any resources. Lactation services, the hospital itself, and health care offices are good sources of help. Everyone needs some help, and even very experienced moms will encounter special issues.
Before your milk comes in fully, your newborn may start nursing every hour for the first day or two of life. This helps your body create a good milk supply, one perfectly tailored to your baby's needs. In just two to four days, your body will adjust itself to this "information," and your baby will need to nurse less often, about every two to three hours, or 8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period.
This is part of the normal transition process, and it doesn't mean he's dissatisfied with you, your milk, or your care. His fussing and crying means that he knows what he needs, and how to signal those who can provide it for him. At this age, you can expect a typical feeding to last between 10 and 15 minutes on each breast. Longer is fine if your baby has learned the proper nursing technique (see below).
Establishing a Good Milk Supply
When you are nursing, your good nutrition, plenty of fluids, and rest are all essential. Sleep when the baby sleeps, and drink plenty of healthy liquids. Milk, water, and juice are all good options. Relax. Get rid of unessential tasks, disruptive people, and pressure and focus on you and your baby.