The American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend exclusively breastfeeding for six months. The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend the same. From experts on the news to your local doctor’s office, many providers strongly encourage breastfeeding.
Why? There are two big reasons:
- Your breastfed baby will be healthier as an infant and reap benefits even into adulthood.
- You will recuperate faster from childbirth and experience benefits to your physical and emotional health.
The perfect baby food
Breast milk comes stocked with essentials. It provides friendly bacteria, antibodies, vitamins, minerals, hormones and other beneficial things. And on top of all that, breast milk is more easily digestible for your baby.
During pregnancy and immediately following birth, you will produce colostrum. This is a thick, sticky, yellowish fluid sometimes referred to as “liquid gold” because it’s so nutritious.
It is normal for newborns to nurse anywhere between 15 to 60 minutes and get only a teaspoon of liquid gold. While that doesn’t sound like much to us, it can be the perfect amount for them.
After birth, your baby’s tummy is about the size of a small marble and can only hold one teaspoon.
A healthy baby
Extensive research has demonstrated several breastfeeding benefits. Breastfeeding sets babies up for success with advantages that can last into adulthood.
For example, breastfed babies have stronger immune systems. This can protect them from many different conditions:
- Allergic conditions, such as seasonal allergies and eczema
- Asthma and respiratory ailments
- Childhood leukemia
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Ear infections
- Gastrointestinal and urinary tract infections
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Type 1 diabetes
Breastfeeding can also help lower your child’s risk of obesity. When you breastfeed, you give your baby hormonal protection through leptin. Leptin prevents childhood and adult obesity by affecting growth, food satisfaction and self-regulation. Breast milk is loaded with leptin.
Other breastfed baby health benefits include:
- Better tooth and jaw development
- Higher intellectual growth
- Lower insulin levels and better metabolism
- Pain and stress prevention and relief
- Stronger bone development
A healthy mom
When you breastfeed, you reap the benefits along with your baby.
Breastfeeding helps your body recover and heal faster by releasing certain hormones. For example, your uterus will contract back to its previous size quicker. Some research suggests that these hormones help protect you from postpartum depression, too.
You may also find it easier to get back to your previous weight. If you breastfeed, you’ll burn up to 500 calories a day. Breastfeeding also releases oxytocin, which has calming effects.
Exclusively breastfeeding is a natural contraceptive. Nursing encourages longer amenorrhoea (absence of a period). If you really don’t want to get pregnant again, use birth control even if you haven’t gotten your period again. You will have no way of knowing when your first ovulation will occur.
And just like your baby, you’ll be at a lower risk for some health problems. Breastfeeding for even a few months will reduce your risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
When to start breastfeeding
Begin breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth, preferably within the first hour. Ideally, you should breastfeed exclusively for the first six months. This means using breast milk as your baby’s sole nutrition.
After six months, you can start adding solid foods. Continue breastfeeding until your baby’s first birthday. If you wish to breastfeed to two years and beyond, that is also encouraged.
If that length of time seems overwhelming, remember that babies benefit from breastfeeding even for short periods. Commit to trying for two weeks first. Then reset your goal to two months. Even two months will give your baby an enormous advantage.
For some, breastfeeding comes naturally and easily. But others struggle, especially in the first few weeks as both parent and baby are adjusting, and later as parents return to work.
Prepare to breastfeed before your baby is born to help set yourself up for success. Explore available breastfeeding classes, online discussion groups and other resources.
Purchase your breastfeeding supplies early. This includes items such as breast pads, nipple cream, nursing bras and breast pumps. Under the Affordable Care Act, most health insurance plans cover breastfeeding equipment and counseling for pregnant people and new parents. Talk to your insurer to find out what your plan covers.
Tell your primary care provider early in your pregnancy if you plan to breastfeed. Your provider is a good source of education and support.
Seek out those who will support your efforts. Breastfeeding support groups meet in many communities and online. Family members and friends who have breastfed are good support, too. Hospitals often have staff trained in breastfeeding who can assist you before you go home.
If you want extra support, connect with a lactation consultant. These specialists have a nursing background with advanced education in breastfeeding. They are especially helpful to those who have never breastfed or who previously had problems breastfeeding.
To speak to a Sanford Health lactation consultant or postpartum nurse, call our lactation support hotline in your area:
Sioux Falls: (605) 328-7120
Fargo: (701) 417-3838
Bismarck: (701) 323-2547
Bemidji: (218) 333-5755
Medical review by April Swafford, Clinical Care Leader, Lactation, Sanford Health Fargo.
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