Breastfeeding: is it right for you?




Breastfeeding: is it right for you?

So you’re having a baby and you think you would like to breastfeed because everyone says that breast milk is best for your baby. At the same time, you’ve heard many troubling stories about breastfeeding and you have numerous questions.
Is it painful? Will I have enough milk for my baby? How will my body be affected? Much of the anxiety that surrounds the topic stems from a lack of proper information. As it is with every other element of pregnancy, getting the right information and having good support is key to conquering its potential challenges.

Let’s cover the basics
Once a woman is pregnant, her body assumes that she is going to breastfeed and, right from the start, sets everything up for her and her unborn baby. Your breasts will become bigger because of the increased activity in them, particularly the production of colostrum, which generally begins around the middle of pregnancy.
Called liquid gold, colostrum is an important fluid, made especially to meet all your baby’s nutritional needs. With colostrum, your baby doesn’t need any other liquids or food. As a result, breastfed infants grow exactly the way they should. They tend to gain less unnecessary weight and to be leaner.
In fact, studies show that premature babies do better when breastfed compared to premature babies who are fed formula. Colostrum is also high in antibodies. This is your baby’s first immunisation, which protects him against infectious diseases. Colostrum is rich in growth factors and is also a laxative that helps your baby to pass meconium (the first stool). This prevents jaundice.

Baby rules!
Breastfeeding is baby led. At birth, your baby’s stomach is about the size of a walnut and so colostrum comes in small quantities, about a teaspoon at a time to start with.
Your breasts continue to produce colostrum, as your baby demands it. The more your baby feeds, the more milk there is.
If your baby does not suckle or is separated from you and is given a bottle (e.g. in a medical situation), unless you express the colostrum, there is no message sent to the breasts to make milk. As breast milk is digested easily and quickly, breastfed babies feed very frequently, every two to three hours or so, in the early months. One of the truly remarkable things about breast milk is that it changes in composition from feed to feed, day to day, month to month, to satisfy the needs of your growing baby.
In this way, baby rules!

The effects on mommy
Baby isn’t the only one who benefits from breastfeeding. Mommy does too! Apart from the fact that breast milk is free and so saves you money, nursing also uses up extra calories, making it easier to lose the pounds gained from pregnancy. Breastfeeding helps the uterus to get back to its original size more quickly and lessens any bleeding a woman may have after giving birth.
Breastfeeding may also lower the risk of osteoporosis and breast and ovarian cancers.
Almost all women can breastfeed; they just need to learn how to do it right.
There are many options for this, including research, which is widely and readily available online. It’s also important for you and your partner to consider joining a childbirth education class to learn about pregnancy, giving birth and postnatal issues such as breastfeeding. These will help you become more confident about being a parent.
You can also join a breastfeeding mother support group, where you can interact with other pregnant and new breastfeeding mothers.

The emotional connection
The emotional connection breastfeeding establishes between mother and child cannot be emphasised enough. Breastfeeding brings you closer to your baby, creating a powerful bond. Physical contact is also important to your baby and can help him feel more secure, warm and comforted. When you breastfeed, oxytocin, called the hormone of love, is released, causing tiny muscle cells around your milk glands to squeeze milk out of the glands and into the milk ducts. This is called the let-down reflex or milk ejection reflex.
All the effects of this hormone are directed towards the baby and in a beautiful way, the baby becomes the object of love, especially when you consider that your let-down can occur when you hear your baby cry or think about nursing your baby.

The time to stop
Once you’ve created this powerful bond with your baby, the challenge you soon face is how to continue breastfeeding once you return to your normal pattern of life, in particular working. This is a very worrying time for mothers, who sometimes stop breastfeeding thinking there is no option. Others will look for help, learn how to express and store their milk, and deal with their new situations.

Whatever option you choose, understand that breastfeeding is a commitment and it is important that you receive the support, encouragement and help of those close to you to maintain lactation. New mothers always ask me when is the right time to stop breastfeeding. My answer is always, “You must decide what is best for you.” This is an individual choice for each woman.

However, it is advisable that at around six months, you start introducing soft foods to your baby. You should increase the quantity and variety of foods as your baby grows and gets teeth, but breastfeeding is important for his first two years of life. So relax and enjoy your breastfeeding experience: it is powerful, empowering, pleasurable and rewarding.

Published with permission from Basia Magazine, Volume 4 Issue 2 2008.