Giving birth to a baby brings great joy in your life. Being a mother, you become more responsible and ensure that your baby receives the best of everything. With this intention, you decide to breastfeed, but you may be confused and may have a million questions about breastfeeding. This article will help you clear some of your doubts and make you confident this decision.
Let us understand more about breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding in brief
Breastfeeding, also called nursing, is the most effective way to ensure your child’s health and survival; it is the ideal food for infants. Breastmilk is safe, clean and provides all the energy and nutrients required by the infant.
Medical experts such as WHO, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics and UNICEF recommend that babies should be breastfed within the first hour of birth and exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months. After other foods are introduced to the baby, the experts recommend continuing breastfeeding through the first year of baby’s life.
Along with energy and nutrients, breastfeeding has numerous health benefits for both the baby and the mother.
Benefits of breastfeeding for baby and mother
Breastmilk provides antibodies which help protect the baby from many childhood illnesses and sets the foundation for healthy growth and development. Breastfeeding has also shown to improve the performance of children in intelligence tests.
Breastfeeding is known to reduce the risk of various conditions, including:
- Overweight and obesity
- Leukemia in childhood
- Infections like ear infection, lower respiratory infection
- Diabetes in adulthood
- Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
- Constipation, diarrhea and vomiting
- Necrotizing enterocolitis (a disease of the gastrointestinal tract in premature babies)
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Women who breastfeed feel confident in taking care of their baby. The skin-to-skin contact while breastfeeding helps develop a strong bond between the mother and child.
Apart from emotional satisfaction, breastfeeding has various health benefits for mothers as well; including:
- Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, ovarian, uterine, and certain breast cancers
- Easily return to pre-pregnancy shape and weight
- Decreased risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.
How to breastfeed correctly?
While feeding, if you feel pain or have signs of nipple damage, like cracking or bleeding, then the baby is not nursing correctly. The following can also mean that the baby is nursing incorrectly:
- The baby’s head is not in line with the body
- The baby is sucking in a quick, light, fluttery manner
- The baby is sucking on the nipple rather than the areola with the nipple far back in the mouth.
- You hear clicking noises
- The baby’s cheeks are puckered inward
- You do not hear the baby swallow after the milk production has increased.
You can initiate breastfeeding by allowing your baby to search for the breast; this can take some time, but it will keep you and the baby calm and relaxed. This approach of breastfeeding is led by the baby, and you will follow the baby’s instincts. This approach is known as laid-back breastfeeding, biological nurturing, or baby-led breastfeeding. However, remember that there is no one way to start breastfeeding; you should just ensure that the baby is latched on well.
Below are some tips to make sure that your baby latches on to the breast and starts sucking:
- Maintain a calm environment: Use pillows for support and to keep you calm and comfortable. Breastfeed in a place where you are calm and relaxed.
- Develop skin-to-skin contact: Hold your baby against your bare chest, while the baby wears only a diaper. Hold the baby between your chest and enjoy the moment.
- Allow your baby to lead: When the baby is hungry, she will bob her head against you, try to turn and make eye contact. These are signs that she is hungry; the signs may vary among babies.
- Do not force the latch: Support the baby’s head and shoulders as she searches for the breast. Do not try to help her latch on.
- Let your breast hang naturally: When the breast hits the baby’s chin, the firm pressure makes the baby to open her mouth wide and reach the nipple and the baby gets a deep latch.
In case the “baby-led” approach is not successful, try to:
- Tickle the baby’s lips with nipple so that he or she opens the mouth.
- Pull the baby close so that the baby’s chin and lower jaw is into the breast.
- Position the baby’s lower lip far from the base of the nipple so that the baby takes a a large mouthful of breast.
You will know if the baby has latched on properly, when:
- The latch does not hurt or pinch, it feels comfortable.
- The baby does not have to turn his or her head while breastfeeding.
- You see little or no areola (the darker skin around the nipple).
- The baby’s mouth is filled with breast.
- You see or hear the baby swallow.
- The baby’s lips turn outwards, not inwards.
- You can see the baby’s ears wiggle slightly.
- The baby’s chin touches your breast.
When and how much should you breastfeed?
UNICEF and WHO recommends that infants should be breastfed in the first hour of birth. Later, the baby can be fed every 2 to 3 hours each day. This means that initially, you must feed the baby a few times in the night, too.
Each feeding may range from 15 to 20 minutes per breast. The time may be longer or shorter for some infants. Your baby will show signs that he or she is full and has finished feeding.
Babies should be breastfed on demand. Look for your baby’s signs of hunger, which may include:
- Putting hands or fists in the mouth
- Becoming more active and alert
- Turning the head to look for the breast
- Making sucking motions with the mouth
Crying is usually a late sign of hunger, which may upset the baby making it difficult to latch on. With time, you will be able to recognize your baby’s cues for breastfeeding.
The amount of breastmilk produced depends on how often the baby breastfeeds. Women with breasts of all sizes can make enough breastmilk for their babies. The baby’s weight should double in the first few months after birth. More number of wet diapers and weight gain are a sign that the baby is getting enough milk. If you are still concerned about producing a low amount of milk, visit a lactation consultant.
- Breastfeeding. Healthy Children.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/default.aspx. Accessed on 28th September 2020.
- Breastfeeding. World Health Organisation. https://www.who.int/health-topics/breastfeeding#tab=tab_2. Accessed on 28th September 2020.
- Breastfeeding. Office on Women’s Health. https://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding. Accessed on 28th September 2020.
- Breastfeeding. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/index.htm. Accessed on 28th September 2020.
- Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding. Kids Health. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/breast-bottle-feeding.html. Accessed on 28th September 2020.
- Why is breastfeeding important for your baby? New York State. https://www.health.ny.gov/prevention/nutrition/wic/breastfeeding/importance.htm. Accessed on 28th September 2020.
- Breastfeeding. Web MD. https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/nursing-basics#1. Accessed on 28th September 2020.