Breastfeeding Your Infant
Breastfeeding is widely regarded as having many benefits and advantages for both mothers and their newborns. While it is a natural way to provide the healthiest nutrition to a child during its first year of life, it is a process which has to be learned to in order to obtain all of its advantages.
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy on breastfeeding states that “breastfeeding insures the best possible health as well as the best developmental and psychosocial outcomes for the infant”.
How Breastfeeding Works
The breastfeeding process works on the principal of positive feedback. As an infant suckles at a mother’s breast, a message is sent to the mother’s brain that results in the production of a chemical that stimulates the production of milk. The ability for a mother to continuously produce milk depends upon this feedback cycle not being interrupted. Interruptions in the cycle can occur when the message to the mother’s brain is disrupted by:
- an infant sleeping longer than 4 hours
- poor suckling by the infant
- bottle feeding
Advantages of Breastfeeding and Breast Milk
The important aspect of breastfeeding is that a mother’s breast milk is intended exclusively for infants. It provides not only all the protein, sugar, fat and vitamins an infant requires, but special and unique benefits that artificial formulas cannot match. These include:
- easily digested
- no preparation is needed
- continuously available and costs nothing
- environmentally safe since it produces no waste
- stimulation of the uterus return to its regular size more quickly
- faster return to pre-pregnancy weight
- reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancer
- stimulation of building of bone strength in mothers
- enhanced infant and mother bonding and development
- promotion of infant eye and jaw muscle development
Additionally, substances in human breast milk provide an infant with protective antibodies so that they are less likely to experience:
- ear infections
- respiratory infections such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis
- SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)
Who Can Breastfeed
Generally women without health conditions are encouraged to breastfeed for at least the first six months of their infant’s life. Conditions where breastfeeding should not be done include the presence of HIV or tuberculosis since these infections can be passed on to the infant. Additionally, certain medicines, illegal drugs and alcohol can also cause harm to the baby.
How to Begin Breastfeeding
Infants are born with the instinct to nurse and will naturally turn towards a mother’s nipple and open his or her mouth and begin sucking. When a mother is ready to begin nursing, she should find a comfortable position that permits her to cup her breast in her hand and stroke the baby’s lower lip with her nipple. The baby will open his or her mouth and the mother should quickly center her nipple in the baby’s mouth, making sure that the tongue is down while pulling the baby close to her. A mother should always bring her baby to her breast – not her breast to her baby.
It is important to note that the first two weeks of nursing can be more difficult than bottle feeding because of the time it takes for the baby and mother to become accustom to the breastfeeding process.
Resources for Breastfeeding
Women expecting to breastfeed should consult with their pediatrician to find out what local recourses are available to them. In many cases they will be able to recommend Lactation Educators who can provide one-on-one support on how to achieve the best results. Additionally the La Leche League, (www.lll.org) an international non-profit, non-sectarian organization can provide education, information, support and encouragement to women who would like to breastfeed.