Breastfeeding or nursing is the process of feeding a mother’s breast milk to her infant. This can be done either directly from the breast or by pumping out the milk from the breast and bottle-feeding it to the baby. Breast milk provides an infant all the essential nutrients and calories, including fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
- Colostrum or “Liquid Gold” is the first fluid produced by mothers after delivery. Produced in low quantities, this fluid is rich in antibodies and proteins but lacks in carbohydrates and fats. It not only protects the baby against infections but also aids in the overall growth and development.
- As the baby grows Breast milk changes. By the fifth day after birth, colostrum changes into mature milk. This milk is thinner and more voluminous and has just the right amount nutrients for the child’s growth.
- Although breast milk provides most of the nutrients an infant need, it lacks adequate Vitamin D. Therefore, breastfeeding may need to be supplemented with a doctor recommended vitamin D intake.
- Breastfeeding is superior to breastmilk substitutes (BMS) – nutritionally, immunologically, neurologically, and endocrinologically.
- Over 820 000 children’s lives could be saved annually among children under 5 years if all children 0–23 months old were optimally breastfed- WHO
- Evidence shows that breastfeeding improves IQ, immunity, and is associated with better economic condition by reducing health costs
Benefits of Breastfeeding:
Breastfeeding is akin to baby’s first vaccination against death and disease and a way of providing an infant with the nutrients needed for their healthy growth and development. Not only does Breastfeeding benefit the infants, but it is often associated with benefits to the mother.
Research suggests breastfeeding has both short- and long-term health benefits to mothers including
- Decreased postpartum (post-delivery) blood loss
- More rapid involution of uterus
- Increased child spacing
- Helps mothers to shed the excess weight and return to their pre-pregnancy weight
- Decreased risk of Type 2 Diabetes mellitus.
- Higher Cumulative lifetime duration of breastfeeding is related to low risk of development of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Significant reduction in hypertension and cardiovascular disease
- Protection against most common forms of cancer in women – breast and ovarian cancer
Breast milk is a complete food for infants. The milk changes constantly to meet the baby’s growing needs and offers a unique protection against diseases and infections. Breast feeding protects the newborn through antibodies present in breast milk. Newborns have an immature immune system and therefore have less ability to fight illness-causing germs.
Through breast milk, mothers give their baby immunities to illnesses to which she is immune and also those to which she has been exposed. Research has shown that breast milk can lower the risk and severity of many diseases and conditions including
- Childhood Obesity
- Ear Infections
- Diarrhea and Vomiting
- Upper and Lower respiratory infections: such as pneumonia, syncytial virus bronchiolitis, etc. in infants that are breastfed for more than 6 months
- Gastrointestinal Tract Infections: Studies show a 64% reduction in the incidence of nonspecific gastrointestinal tract infections in breastfed infants
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and Infant Mortality: A 36% reduced risk of SIDS (the unexplained death, of an apparently healthy baby (less than a year old), usually during sleep)
- Type 2 Diabetes: Researchers find a reduction of 40% in the incidence of type 2 diabetes
- Allergic diseases: Protective against incidence of clinical asthma, atopic dermatitis, and eczema.
- Celiac Disease: Association between increased duration of breastfeeding and reduced risk of celiac disease.
- Colds, viruses, and E coli infections
- Childhood cancers: Reduction in leukemia is correlated with the duration of breastfeeding
- Urinary tract infections
- Lifetime protection from Crohn’s Disease
- Breast and ovarian cancer
Studies reveal that Breastfeeding is also associated with
- Neurological development of children
- Early skin-to-skin contact and suckling may have physical and emotional benefits for both – mother and child.
Challenges in Breastfeeding:
Breastfeeding is not easy and can be particularly challenging in the early days. Some women may face:
- Sore nipples
- Low or oversupply of milk
- Breast infection
- Hardened and painful breasts (engorgement)
- Plugged Ducts
Although these problems are very common, it is important to consult a doctor to ensure the safety of mother and child.
1) When to begin?
Within the first hour of birth
2) How long should a mother Breastfeed?
Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months after birth. After that, along with other complementary foods, breastfeeding can continue for up to 2 years.
3) How often to breastfeed?
In the early weeks, babies should be fed at least 8–12 times a day, or every 2 to 3 hours. This time is calculated from start of one feeding to the start of the next.
4) What should be the duration of one session?
Typically, a newborn may feed for 10–15 minutes on each breast. But the nursing time can vary and be much longer, in some cases between 1 to 2 hours at a time.
The duration and frequency of feeding may vary between babies and they should be allowed to set their own nursing pattern.
5) When should a baby be given solid food?
Usually, at 6 months, an infant’s requirements start to exceed beyond what is provided by breast milk, and complementary foods become necessary. Start by giving small amounts of fortified complementary food and increase the quantity, consistency, and variety gradually as the child gets older.
6) What should be breastfeeding moms eat?
- Lactating mothers need about 450 to 500 calories more when to make breast milk for the newborn (approximately 2,500 calories/day for normal weighted female)
- Plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
- Multivitamin and mineral supplement suggested by your doctor
7) What foods to avoid?
There are no foods breastfeeding moms need to avoid. But some foods may cause an upset stomach in a baby. The mothers must make a note of the food that causes any of these symptoms listed below and stop eating those for two or three weeks to see if your baby’s symptoms go away.
- Diarrhea, vomiting, green stools with mucus and/or blood
- Rash, eczema, hives, dry skin
- Fussiness during and/or after feedings
- Inconsolable crying for long periods
- Wheezing or coughing
If symptoms persist consult a children doctor.
8) What to avoid or limit?
- Drinks with added sugars – carbonated drinks, fruit drinks.
- Drink only mild to moderate amount of caffeinated beverages – these can make a baby fussy
- Alcohol: Wait at least for 2 hours after an occasional drink to breastfeed. Regular intake of alcoholic drinks may harm the baby by causing sleepiness, weakness, and unhealthy weight gain.
- Quit Smoking: Secondhand smoke from cigarettes is very harmful to infants and children. It increases risk of allergies, asthma, and can decrease your milk supply.
9) Is medication safe while breastfeeding?
Most medications are safe. Although if you are on a prescription medication for a health disorder, consult it with your doctor.
10) Can a baby be allergic to breast milk?
No. But they can be sensitive to some foods mothers eat.
11) Will physical activity affect my breast milk?
Physical activity does not affect the quality or quantity of breastmilk. It helps you stay healthy, and feel better. Talk to a doctor about how and when to slowly begin exercising following baby’s birth.
12) Can stress affect breastfeeding?
Yes. Stress can make mothers susceptible to illnesses or cause sleeping problems, stomach problems, headaches, and mental health problems. This may impact the breast milk flow.
13) Can you breastfeed when sick?
Most common illnesses, such as colds, flu, or diarrhea, can’t be passed through breastmilk. The antibodies in breastmilk protect the baby from these. In case of a viral infection like flu, stay away from the baby, to avoid passing it on to the baby. In such cases, breast pumps and bottles can be used to feed the baby.
14) When can you not breastfeed?
Breastfeeding is not advisable for mothers suffering from
- HIV or AIDS
- Infected with human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II
- Taking chemotherapy sessions
- Getting radiation treatment