The Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breast milk gives your baby the healthiest start to life, and the benefits and importance of breastfeeding for as long as possible are well-documented. The composition of breast milk provides the perfect nutrition for babies, starting with colostrum, which is the first milk your body makes during pregnancy and after giving birth.
Colostrum is often termed ‘liquid gold’ because of the richness of the nutrients and antibodies it provides. Colostrum usually lasts for the first three to five days’ post-partum when your body begins to produce mature milk. Colostrum also helps protect the function and growth of your baby’s digestive system. The stomach of a newborn baby is extremely small, which is why they only need a very small amount of colostrum at each feeding. As they continue to grow, they will eat more and more at each feeding. Your body will work to produce as much milk as baby needs, while the composition of your breast milk will also change to meet your baby’s needs.
One major benefit to breastfeeding is the increased protection from illnesses. The hormones and antibodies in breast milk are a natural defender against childhood illnesses such as ear infections, asthma, and eczema, as well as gastrointestinal issue like gassiness, constipation and diarrhea, and can even help protect against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In addition, breastfed babies are more likely to gain the recommended amount of weight since the amount of vitamins, protein and fat in breast milk is perfectly balanced to meet baby’s changing needs.
Breastfeeding also provides important physical and emotional benefits to new mothers. The oxytocin released while breastfeeding your newborn helps your uterus contract back to its pre-pregnancy size more quickly and aids in reducing post-partum blood loss. Oxytocin is also calming to both mother and baby and is released during the skin to skin contact while baby nurses. The possible long-term benefits for women who breastfeed include a reduced risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, and type two diabetes.
The hormonal changes that take place in your breasts during pregnancy are preparing your body to breastfeed your baby, but there are ways that you can prepare for breastfeeding that will help ensure success. Taking a breastfeeding class during pregnancy and consulting with a certified lactation consultant after birth to help with a proper latch can both be extremely helpful for new parents. Also, choose a pediatrician for your baby who understands the benefits of breastfeeding and is supportive of your desire to breastfeed.