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Breastfeeding or nursing is the practice of feeding a baby or an infant with milk from a woman’s breast. It is important to understand everything about this process, which is commonly taken as a taboo, and therefore, we would run you through everything *(breastfeeding benefits and related FAQs) that you need to know about breastfeeding. There are many breastfeeding benefits for both the child and mother that you should know.
BREASTFEEDING BENEFITS : ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
Why Is Breastfeeding Important?
Breastfeeding is not just important, but rather essential. Research on Breastfeeding claims that every year, deaths of as many as 8,20,000 children under the age of 5 can be prevented if breastfeeding is followed religiously. Breastfeed provides nutrients and benefits that no instant formula can provide. Apart from nourishing the baby, breastfeeding is also essential for the mother’s health and the beginning of maternal bonding. It ensures well being of both, the mother, and the baby.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Babies
As opposed to bottle fed milk, breastfeed build a much stronger foundation of a kid’s immunity. It prevents the baby from several infections because of its anti-infective elements. It reduces the risk of diabetes, obesity, and asthma. The kid may also be protected from diarrhea, Crohn’s disease, sudden infant death syndrome, lymphoma, and leukemia.
The baby may also have stronger cognitive abilities and retinal development along with accurate physical growth. The risk of a phenomenon called Newborn Jaundice is also lowered in babies who have been breastfed. Bilirubin, the substance which causes jaundice, develops faster in infants and their liver is unable to break it down. Because of breastfeeding, excess bilirubin is excreted from the baby’s body, thus preventing jaundice. With vitamins, antibodies, fats, and protein in the right amount, breast milk, which is also much easier to digest, is the best nutrition intake for babies and infants.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Mothers
Do you know? breastfeeding is not only beneficial for babies, but also for mothers. It lowers the risk of ovarian, endometrial and breast cancer. Most women who breastfeed, experience a delay in their menstrual cycle because of hormonal changes during lactation. Thus, the exposure of estrogen, which can promote cells for breast cancer, is reduced. Women also shed breast tissues during pregnancy as well as breastfeeding, which further helps in lowering the risk of breast cancer. By lowering the chances of ovulation, risk of ovarian cancer is also prevented.
The activity is also associated with weight loss post pregnancy, though there is no clear evidence to support this theory. Breastfeeding also prevents the mother from developing diabetes and increases the contraction of uterus. Above all, during breastfeeding, the skin and eye contact, as well as the release of hormones help in nurturing the bond between the mother and the child.
Apart from the health and emotional breastfeeding benefits, the financial breastfeeding benefits are also often highlighted. Particularly in developing nations, this is an important factor for women to consider, since it saves a lot of cost that would otherwise be procured on the baby’s nutrition.
THE PROCESS OF BREASTFEEDING
When To Begin Breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding can begin within half an hour of a child’s birth. Babies have a natural tendency to stick to the breasts and therefore feeding also begins naturally, once the mother places the baby over her abdomen. Experts deter any sort of interruptions during the first feed since this is when the baby develops the habit of feeding. Whether the child has had a normal delivery or a cesarean surgery, breastfeeding can begin right away.
Children born premature, however, face problems in breastfeeding and therefore mothers may take support of other methods of feeding the child. We will explore these methods in the upcoming sections.
How Often Do Babies Need To Be Fed?
For the first few weeks, newborn babies feed once every one to three hours for 10 to 15 minutes on each breast. It is essential that the baby is exclusively fed at least for the first 6 months after birth. After 6 months, one can add other food items like cereals to the baby’s diet, while continuing breastfeeding. WHO recommends that the baby is continued to be fed even till 2 years of age or beyond, on demand, which would only benefit both the child and mother. The longer you breastfeed the baby, more are the breastfeeding benefits received by the baby and the mother.
Positions For Breastfeeding
In order to prevent nipple soreness and feed enough milk to the baby, correct positioning is important. Babies may latch on to the mother’s breast in different positions, as per their preference. These include the cradle position, cross cradle position, football position, Australian Hold position, Back Lying, Inverted Side Lying and more. Kids may also suck breasts in situations associated with loneliness or stress.
What you need to ensure is that in any position that you choose, you are maintaining a comfortable posture, with your back leaning against a comfortable pillow. This will ensure better results for both mother and baby. he will be able to get all the breastfeeding benefits along with better sleep.
- Breastfeeding – As explained earlier, breastfeeding simply means feeding milk to a baby or infant through breasts. This helps baby to get all the breastfeeding benefits directly and helps him build strong immune system.
- Expressed Milk – A mother may express her milk and store it to be used later. There are special containers, bottles and storage bags for pumped milk that is produced by breast pumping. This is used when the mother and child are apart or for premature babies. It helps delivers the same breastfeeding benefits that baby can get when directly fed from breast of mother.
- Milk Banks – Expressed milk, can be produced by another woman, and donated for use by a mother who cannot otherwise breastfeed. Sometimes instead of directly donating, women donate their milk to milk banks for such purposes.
Other Less Known Methods
- Tandem Nursing – This refers to a mother nursing more than one child at the same time. Nursing two kids at the same time is common and also healthy. A few mothers even nurse broods of children together. It is not very clear if this is a healthy practice or not, considering the different requirements of kids of different age.
- Shared Nursing – In history, as well as in some regions in contemporary times, women share the burden of nursing with fellow women. This would mean a woman other than the mother, sharing the load of breastfeeding for a kid. When women are hired to do so, they are known as wet nurses.
- Induced Lactation – This is a process, mostly used by women who have adopted children and wish to breastfeed them. Hormones and other drugs are given to the woman in order to induce breastfeeding without giving birth.
- In case a baby is unable to suck or latch even after repetitive trials, mothers can resort to alternate feeding methods which include spoon feeding, syringe feeding, cup feeding and eye dropper feeding.
When Should You Not Breastfeed ?
Healthy infants get a lot from breastfeeding benefits, and therefore there are not many scenarios in which breastfeeding is not recommended. A few rare medical conditions do not allow one to breastfeed. However, as mentioned, these are extremely rare.
In case of certain infectious diseases, breastfeeding needs to be carried with extra precautions or needs to be avoided altogether. This includes the scenario where a mother might be HIV positive. The viral load in the milk of the mother, make the process dangerous and might lead to an HIV infection even in the baby.
A woman suffering from infections like human T-lymphotropic virus or untreated and active tuberculosis, is recommended not to breastfeed. Mothers taking recreational drugs and certain medications also need to take precautions or avoid breastfeeding since this could turn harmful for the baby.
WHO has recommended that national agencies, based on the health issues already persisting in the region, should decide under what circumstances is it recommended to a woman to not breastfeed.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What factors can affect breastfeed milk?
There are many factors that can affect breastfeed.
- Allergy & Cold Medication
- Postpartum Hemorrhage
- Low Thyroid
- High Quantity of Herbs & Spices
- Hormonal Birth Control
- Environmental Toxins
- Long intervals between breastfeeding
How to ensure that your baby is getting sufficient milk and breastfeeding benefits?
Pediatricians recommend the “rule of 4”. “By 4 days of age, a breastfed baby’s stools should turn yellow and seedy; he should have at least four stools a day; and that pattern should continue for at least four weeks.” The Baby should also urinate at least 6 times a day and it should be clear. The baby should also be breastfed at least 8 times in 24 hours. Keep a check on the baby’s weight to ensure that they’re getting enough.
Is it difficult to breastfeed after 35 years of age?
No. You just need to focus on a healthy pregnancy and lifestyle to ensure that you are breastfeeding appropriately. There are no complications in breastfeeding even after 35 years of age.
Can a 1 year old survive on just breastfeed?
It is recommended that a baby is exclusively breastfed, with no other form of nutrition up till 6 months of age. After 6 months, WHO recommends that complementary foods are introduced to a baby’s diet along with breastfeed. This takes care of a healthy and nutritional diet for the infant.
Does formula have more nutrition than breastfeed milk (breastfeeding benefits)?
No, Breastfeeding is exclusively recommended for up till 6 months of age, since breastfeed has much more nutritional value than any instant formula. More importantly, breastfed milk has antibodies which when passed to the baby, prevent them from falling sick.
Is it safe to drink, smoke and use drugs while breastfeeding?
If you smoke, it is best for you and your baby for you to quit smoking. If you can’t do that, try seeking help for the same. Nevertheless, it is best for you to breastfeed to protect the child from respiratory infections or SIDS. Ensure that you are smoking away from your baby and are changing clothes before breastfeeding to keep your baby away from smoke and its chemicals.
It is also recommended to avoid drinking alcohol, though an occasional drink in a very limited quantity is fine. You must wait for at least 2 to 3 hours before nursing after you have had an alcohol drink.
It is extremely important to make no use of recreational drugs during this phase, since this can really harm your baby, causing seizures, vomiting and tremors.
What should I eat during breastfeeding?
There is no special diet that needs to be followed while breastfeeding. What you need to ensure is that you are taking a nutritionally balanced diet which means addition of plenty of vegetables and fruits along with nutritional food items such as oats, brown rice and wholegrain cereals.
There is no evidence to support that you need to drink more water or milk in order to breastfeed properly. It is recommended that you drink as much as you feel thirsty. Some foods that you can include in your diet are:
- Fish & Seafood, Meat, Chicken & other poultry
- Fruits and vegetables like berries, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, garlic etc
- Nuts and seeds like almonds, flaxseeds, chia seeds and more
- Fiber rich starch food like potatoes and sweet potatoes, beans, oats, quinoa and more
- Healthy fats like avocado, coconut, full fat yogurt, olive oil and eggs
- Tofu, dark chocolates, sauerkraut and more
The bottom line is to have those foods that provide sufficient nutrition to you and your baby including vitamins, zinc, copper, iron, folate, calcium, iodine, selenium, omega-3 etc.
What food items should I avoid during breastfeeding?
You should avoid the following food items during breastfeeding:
- Cow’s milk
Does my baby need cereal or milk or water?
Your baby only needs your breastfeed till (s)he is 6 months of age. Breastfeed milk has all the required nutrients for your baby.
Should my baby use a pacifier?
Pacifiers are used commonly to teach the baby how to latch well to get enough milk from the breast. If you feel it is required, introduce it to your baby in the 3rd or 4th week after the birth of your baby.
Do I need to apply restrictions to my sex life while breastfeeding?
No, you need not put any restrictions on your sex life. However, for you and your partner to feel more comfortable, you may need to keep certain pointers in mind.
You may have vaginal dryness during this phase because of low estrogen levels. In these cases, you may need lubricants or more foreplay to avoid dryness.
Because of milk supply, your breasts may leak, more so during orgasm. You might want to express milk right before you have sex, in order to avoid the leaking. In case this still happens, keep a towel handy and put some pressure on your nipples to control leaking.
Do I need birth control even when I am breastfeeding?
Yes. Though breastfeeding delays regular menstruation and ovulation, it is not a sure shot way to practice birth control. Seek help from your doctor and understand the best way to opt for birth control.
We have outlined the different breastfeeding benefits to the child, the mother, and the family as a whole. With that, we have attempted to highlight all important aspects of the process of breastfeeding, along with the commencement, timing, duration, exclusivity, positions, and methods of breastfeeding. Another important part to remember is when you should not breastfeed. With increasing social support and awareness being spread about breastfeeding benefits and its importance, we hope that we as a society are moving into a positive direction for the well being of mothers and children alike.
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