by Angel J. Miller, MSN, CNM
Breastfeeding is the natural way to feed your baby and also benefits your health, but the decision to breastfeed is up to you. This information below explains the benefits of breastfeeding so you can make an informed decision about how to feed your baby.
Breast milk: the best food for your baby!
Breast milk provides all the nutrition your baby needs – it contains the right amount of nutrients for your baby to grow.
Breast milk is always available – as soon as your baby is born, a hormone is released by your body, signaling the breasts to produce milk. The more your baby feeds, the more milk your breasts produce.
Breast milk is convenient – it is always at the right temperature and does not require measuring or special preparation.
Breast milk is economical — breast milk is natural and free! Plus, you don’t need to buy formula, extra bottles or other feeding supplies for your baby.
Breastfeeding is safe for the environment — breast milk does not require packaging and doesn’t waste paper, glass, tin, plastic, rubber or silicon. The production of breast milk does not require the use of environmental resources.
Breastfeeding provides comfort to your baby — by holding your baby close to your skin, you provide warmth to your baby, as well as create a bond between you and your baby that no one else can replace.
Breastfeeding helps your baby’s brain develop — studies show that children who are breastfed have higher IQs (by an average of 7 points) than those who are fed breast milk substitutes.
Breastfeeding helps your baby grow into a healthy adult — studies cited by the American Academy of Pediatrics show that people who were breastfed have fewer health problems such as diabetes, asthma, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, allergies, skin problems, and lymphoma, as well as a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke.
Breastfeeding produces healthy babies
Babies who are breastfed for at least six months* have fewer health problems than babies who are fed breast milk substitutes. Breastfed babies have:
- Less diarrhea, constipation and stomach problems because breast milk is easy for babies to digest
- Less allergies; less ear, urinary tract and respiratory infections; and fewer serious illnesses such as bacterial meningitis and botulism because breast milk contains the mother’s antibodies which protect the baby
- Less tooth decay
- Good oral development from sucking at the breast
- A decreased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
*It is currently recommended that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as desired by you and your baby.
Breastfeeding is healthy for moms
- Breastfeeding causes uterine contractions right after birth, leading to less bleeding
- Breastfeeding helps your uterus shrink to its normal size and burns extra calories, helping you get in shape faster
- Reduces your risk of ovarian and premenopausal breast cancer
- Reduces your risk of developing osteoporosis
Common concerns about breastfeeding
1. Are my breasts too small to breastfeed? Breast size does not affect your ability to breastfeed. The amount of milk your breasts produce will depend on how much your baby eats, not how big your breasts are.
2. Will breastfeeding hurt? Breastfeeding should not hurt if your baby is latched onto your breast correctly. Your health care provider can help you learn how to position your baby when you breastfeed for the first time. Your breasts may be tender the first few days, but this discomfort should go away as you continue to breastfeed.
3. Is breastfeeding hard to do? Breastfeeding is a learned skill and takes practice, but the health benefits you are gaining for you and your baby are worth it.
Help with breastfeeding is available. There are many resources for you to learn about breastfeeding, including a Breastfeeding Basics class that you can attend during pregnancy. Nurses and lactation consultants are also available to provide information and support. Talking to other breastfeeding moms may be helpful and make you feel more comfortable.
4. I am shy and think breastfeeding may embarrass me. You can choose to feed your baby in private. Or, you can breastfeed in front of others without them seeing anything. You can wear shirts that pull up from the bottom, just enough for your baby to reach your breast. You can put a blanket over your shoulder or around your baby so no one can see your breast.
5. Do I have to drink milk if I choose to breastfeed? No, you do not have to drink milk to produce breast milk. Other sources of calcium-rich foods include leafy green vegetables, broccoli or dried beans or peas. Eat 4 servings of calcium-rich foods every day to provide proper nutrition for you and your baby.
6. What if I need to go out? If you can take your baby with you, your baby can eat when he or she is hungry. If you need to be away from your baby, you can learn to pump or express your milk and store it so someone else can feed your baby.
7. How can I breastfeed when I go back to work? When you return to work, you can learn to pump or express your milk and store it so someone else can feed your milk to your baby while you’re at work.
8. I’m worried that breastfeeding will take too much time. Feeding your baby takes time, no matter which method you choose.
Your choice to breastfeed is a personal one. We hope this information explained some of the benefits of breastfeeding for you and your baby. Please feel free to discuss your concerns with your health care provider or a lactation specialist.