How Does Breastfeeding Benefit My Baby?
We all know that the “breast is best.” But why is breast milk so important to your baby’s health?
- Breast milk has the right amount of fat, sugar, water, protein, and minerals needed for a baby’s growth and development. As your baby grows, your breast milk actually adapts to the baby’s changing nutritional needs.
- Breast milk is easier to digest than formula.
- Breast milk contains antibodies that protect infants from ear infections, diarrhea, respiratory illnesses, and allergies.
- Breastfed infants have a lower risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Any amount of breastfeeding appears to help lower this risk.
- If your baby is born preterm, breast milk can help to reduce the risk of many of the short- and long-term health problems that preterm babies face, such as necrotizing enterocolitis, and other infections.
How Does Breastfeeding Benefit Mom?
You might be surprised to learn that breastfeeding is good for new moms, too.
- Breastfeeding burns as many as 500 extra calories each day, which may make it easier to lose the weight gained during pregnancy.
- Women who breastfeed longer have lower rates of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
- Women who breastfeed have lower rates of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
- Breastfeeding releases oxytocin, a hormone that causes the uterus to contract. This helps the uterus return to its normal size more quickly and may decrease the amount of bleeding after giving birth.
How Long Should I Breastfeed My Baby?
Experts recommend that babies exclusively breastfeed for the first 6 months of life. Exclusive breastfeeding means feeding your baby only breast milk, and no other foods or liquids, unless advised by the baby’s doctor.
Breastfeeding should continue as new foods are introduced throughout the baby’s first year. You can keep breastfeeding after the first year as long as you and your baby want to continue. You can use a breast pump to express milk at work, and store it for later use. This also helps to keep up your supply while you are away from your baby.
When Can I Begin Breastfeeding?
Most healthy newborns are ready to breastfeed within the first hour. Make skin-to-skin contact with your baby by holding him or her directly against your bare skin right after birth. This triggers reflexes that help your baby to attach or “latch on” to your breast.
How Do I Know When My Baby Is Hungry?
When babies are hungry, they will nuzzle against your breast, suck on their hands, flex their fingers and arms, and clench their fists. Crying is usually a late sign of hunger. When babies are full, they relax their arms, legs, and hands, and close their eyes.
How Do I Know My Baby Is Getting Enough Milk?
Your baby’s stomach is very small, and breast milk empties from a baby’s stomach faster than formula. For these reasons, you will typically breastfeed at least 8–12 times in 24 hours during the first weeks of your baby’s life. If it has been more than 4 hours since the last feeding, you may need to wake up your baby to feed.
Each nursing session typically lasts 10–45 minutes. Once your breast milk transitions from colostrum to mature milk, your baby will soak at least six diapers each day with urine, and have at least three daily bowel movements. After 10 days, your baby will be back up to birth weight.
Although breastfeeding works for most women, it may not work for everyone.
Who Can Help Me With Breastfeeding?
Peer counselors are women who have experienced breastfeeding and can help with nonmedical breastfeeding questions and support. You can find one by contacting La Leche League, or Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Check with your OB/GYN or other health care provider about resources available in your area.
Certified Lactation Counselors
Lactation counselors can teach you everything you need to know to get started with breastfeeding, and international board-certified lactation consultants can help you navigate any problems you may face while breastfeeding.
Nurses can help you find a comfortable position for nursing in the days after delivery. Your infant’s pediatric care provider can help answer questions about infant nutrition and infant weight gain.
OB/GYNs and Other Obstetric Care Providers
Your physician can discuss breastfeeding with you during pregnancy, and can help you plan for a successful start to breastfeeding. They also can help in the hospital, at your postpartum visit, and beyond.