Breastfeeding is best for both mom and baby. Everyone knows breast milk is the best nourishment for a newborn infant. It protects your infant from infection, is easily digested, makes your baby smarter and lowers your child’s future risk of developing asthma, allergies, diabetes, obesity and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Benefits are not just for the infant. There are also clear benefits for the mother who breast feeds. It decreases a mother’s risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes as well as lowering your future risk for developing breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.
Besides these physical benefits there are cognitive and developmental benefits for both mother and baby. Mothers who breast feed experience a physical and emotional union with their child. This fosters secure attachment, supports self-regulation and healthy eating patterns and enhances maternal fulfillment and emotional satisfaction. Babies who are breastfed have a developmental advantage over formula fed infants.
Another benefit that is easily overlooked is the benefit to the father. Fathers who learn about breastfeeding and become a true partner with their spouse strengthen their relationships with both mother and baby and improve the success of breastfeeding.
The more you know and learn about breastfeeding prior to delivery the more successful the breastfeeding experience will be for both you and your child. Including your spouse in this discovery and learning process is also beneficial. Breastfeeding is natural but it is also a learned behavior. Support from family, friends, workplace and your social and healthcare networks are vital but the most important advice is to always expect the best. Guidance and advice can help you eliminate fears which often lead to anxiety and breastfeeding difficulty. Taking a breastfeeding class, joining a breastfeeding support group and seeking consultation with a lactation consultant or your pediatrician all are helpful. Tailoring your support to your individual needs prepares you best.
During the first hour after delivery it is important to initiate breastfeeding. The nursing staff will be there to guide and support you. Skin to skin contact with your infant is important as is body and head position. In the days following delivery your milk will come in and your nipples will become less tender. You and your infant will discover one another. You will become comfortable with making sure your infant rests her chin and nose on your breast and opens her mouth wide with lips turned out. You will learn how to recognize a good latch and watch and listen for rhythmic and deep sucks with interspersed bursts and pauses. Listen for deep swallows rather than sharp clicks and make sure her cheeks are not sucked in. Patience and support are the best therapy.
After discharge make sure you have a breastfeeding toolkit nearby when you nurse. It should be packed with all the important items you might need including water, burp cloths, clean baby clothes, cleansing wipes, nursing pads, fresh diapers, petroleum jelly, plastic disposal bags, hand sanitizer, a soft blanket and pillow, healthy snacks, a music player and lanolin. Drink plenty of fluids and eat healthy. Nurse on demand and do not watch the clock. Learn to recognize your infant’s cry, movements and facial expressions. Exercise, adequate sleep and stress reduction techniques all help. Exclusive breastfeeding is best but if due to medical concerns you are unable to breastfeed then remember formulas are nutritious, safe and healthy and you should never feel shame or guilt for not nursing due to medical or personal considerations.
Exclusive breast feeding through 6 months of age is best. At 6 months complementary feeding can start. Most parents begin with infant cereal mixed with breast milk and then progress to vegetables, fruits and pureed meats. Complementary foods are not meant to substitute for breast milk. Continuing breastfeeding through age one to two years and beyond is best. Providing breast milk for your child is one of the greatest gifts parents can provide.