What are the Benefits of Breastfeeding?
When possible, we recommend breastfeeding your baby. Mother?s milk contains all the essential nutrients needed during the first 4 to 6 months of life, in an easily digestible form. Breast milk also contains antibodies to protect your baby from many illnesses. Studies have shown that breastfed infants suffer fewer ear infections and colds along with having less colic and diarrhea. Breast milk also protects babies from food allergies as they get older.
The amount of milk produced is ruled by supply and demand. In the beginning your baby will probably nurse every 2 to 3 hours.
The baby isn?t the only one who benefits from breastfeeding. While breastfeeding you don?t have to buy formula, wash bottles, or go to the kitchen to fix a bottle in the middle of the night. Breast milk is always there, ready-to-serve.
Additionally, nursing helps your uterus return to its normal size. A hormone is released when you nurse that causes the muscles of the uterus to contract.
Breastfeeding can also help you shed pounds you gained during your pregnancy. While you were pregnant your body was storing up a reserve for use during the breastfeeding period.
Another important benefit of breastfeeding is that it allows skin to skin touching during feedings providing you and your baby with a special intimate bond. When holding a baby to your breast, your face is the appropriate distance away for the baby to see you well.
How Will My Breasts Change for Breastfeeding?
Whether you plan to nurse or not, your body will prepare for lactation early in the pregnancy. During the first trimester, the first twelve weeks of the pregnancy, you will probably notice your breasts are getting larger and tender. The fat layer in your breasts is getting thicker and the number of milk glands is increasing. Outwardly, the areola, the brown area around the nipple and the nipple get darker, and the areola may increase in size.
By the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy you may notice a drop of thick, yellowish fluid on your bra. This is colostrum. It will be your baby?s first nourishment, containing proteins as well as antibodies to protect your baby from illness. Within a few days of your baby?s birth, the colostrum will be replaced by milk.
Will I Need a Special Diet While Breastfeeding?
A nursing mother needs 500 calories a day more than a non-pregnant woman. A well-balanced diet with plenty of protein is important, as is at least 6 to 8 glasses of fluid a day.
It is a good idea to continue to take your prenatal vitamin as long as you continue to breastfeed.
You may find certain foods you eat may bother the baby. By trial and error you will learn what to avoid for your child.
May I Take Medications While Breastfeeding?
There are medicines that are safe to take while nursing, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol.) Be sure to check with your pediatrician or obstetrician before taking any medication.
Street drugs, such as cocaine or marijuana, should never be used during lactation as they do enter the breast milk. Nicotine from cigarettes also enters breast milk and can cause vomiting, diarrhea and restlessness in the baby, along with decreasing your milk supply. Similarly alcohol crosses over into breast milk and can affect the infant.
How Do I Know If My Baby Is Getting Enough To Eat??
When breastfeeding you do not know how much milk your baby is actually taking in.
Your baby will give you clues, though. In the beginning, breast fed babies nurse 6 to 10 times a day. During the first 4 to 6 weeks of life, your baby should wet at least 6 diapers a day and have at least 2 to 3 bowel movements. Your baby?s stools should be yellowish and loose. Your baby will also gradually gain weight. Your baby should act satisfied and content after feeding.
What are Common Problems with Breastfeeding?
- Sore and Cracking Nipples
Nursing should not be painful. The first thing to check is how your baby is latching on. If there is not enough of the areola in the baby?s mouth, your nipples will be sore and the baby won?t get very much milk. When positioned properly, the baby should have most of the areola in the mouth and its lips will roll outward. If your baby doesn?t have a good hold on the areola, break the suction with your finger and try again. If the baby is having a difficult time latching on because your breasts are engorged (swollen and hard), try expressing a little milk first to make the areola softer. After nursing, you can blow dry your damp nipples, or leave them open to the air to dry. A lanolin cream can be used for comfort and protection between feedings.You should also try to vary the position of the baby to spread out the pressure of the baby?s sucking to different areas of the nipple.
- Blocked Ducts and Mastitis (Breast Infection)
A blocked duct feels like a lump in the breast and is tender to touch. You may find a blocked duct if your baby skips feedings,such as sleeping through the night for the first time, if you always start nursing from the same breast, or if your breasts are heavy and not well supported. To treat the area, apply a warm compress or stand under a warm shower. Massage the affected area towards the nipple while your baby is nursing or you are pumping. If the blocked duct persists, it may get red and very sore. You may see red streaking in the area, have a fever and flu-like symptoms. This is mastitis, or a breast infection. If this happens, you will need to begin taking antibiotics. Be sure to finish all the medication prescribed. During this time you should nurse frequently, get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. You can apply warm compresses to the affected area and massage while nursing, just like with the blocked duct.
- Let-Down Reflex
There are times when your milk will ?let-down? between breastfeedings. This is caused by responses to your environment and is a normal phenomenon. Other times you may have trouble getting your milk to ?let-down? to breastfeed your baby. This can be caused by stress, illness, lack of sleep, fatigue, smoking, or excess alcohol.There are several things to try which may help your milk ?let-down.? Make feeding time relaxing with minimal distractions. Get plenty of rest ? nap when the baby sleeps. Apply warmth to the breasts, massage them or try nipple stimulation. If you are away from your baby and having trouble with the ?let-down? reflex while using a breast pump, look at a picture of your baby.
At some point you will want to stop nursing, or wean your baby. The most comfortable way to wean your baby is to do it slowly over several days. Every few days use a bottle instead of breastfeeding. Over time, as the demand to your breasts lessens, so will your supply of milk. If you must stop nursing abruptly, your breasts will probably become engorged. If this happens, decrease all stimulation to your breasts ? stand with your back to the shower spray, no nipple stimulation, wear a strong, confining bra (such as a jogging bra), or bind your breasts with an ace wrap. Apply ice packs or cold cabbage leaves to your breasts several times a day. Engorgement should resolve within several days.