Breastfeeding not only creates a strong bond between mother and child, but also has many benefits. Breast milk contains the right balance of nutrients to help your baby grow into a healthy toddler. Studies have shown that breastfed children and those who receive expressed breast milk for six months are protected against some common childhood illnesses and infections, such as diarrhea, ear infections and respiratory illnesses. Compared to infants fed formula, they also have fewer deaths during the first 12 months of life and may be less likely to develop childhood obesity.
Mothers who breastfeed tend to have increased self-esteem and could experience fewer episodes of post-delivery depression. Because breastfeeding releases certain hormones in a woman’s body, the mother’s uterus will decrease in size and the return of menstrual periods will be delayed. Mothers who have breastfed their babies also may have a reduced risk for developing breast, uterine or ovarian cancer.
Breastfeeding may not always be easy, but it is worth the effort. For a smooth start to breastfeeding, start reading about breastfeeding during pregnancy so you will have a better idea about what to do after your baby is born. Talk to friends who have breastfed or attend a breast feeding support group meeting, such as La Leche League.
Begin breastfeeding as soon as possible after delivery because your baby’s instinct to suck is very strong at this time. You will be able to bond with your baby and breastfeed more often if your baby stays with you in the hospital room. If your baby is in the nursery, ask hospital staff to bring your baby to you for feedings and not to give your baby a pacifier or infant formula.
Although there may be some tenderness at first, breastfeeding should not hurt. Breastfed babies will eat more often than formula-fed babies because breast milk is more easily digested. Newborns tend to nurse every two to three hours, which stimulates the production of breast milk. Watch your baby for signs of wanting to nurse, such as sucking motions or lip movements. Let your baby nurse from one breast for about 15 minutes, burp the baby, and then nurse from the other breast. If your baby does not latch on again, begin the next feeding with the second breast. Avoid giving your baby a pacifier for about a month because it could interfere with breastfeeding.
You will be able to tell if your baby is getting enough milk by keeping track of wet and dirty diapers. In the beginning, your baby will have only one or two wet diapers a day. As your milk supply increases, your baby should have five or six wet diapers and three to four dirty diapers daily.
Breastfeeding is a natural process that may take some time to get accustomed to, for both you and your baby. If you have trouble breastfeeding or are concerned about how your baby is nursing, talk with your doctor or a certified lactation nurse. For more information about breastfeeding, visit the National Women’s Health Information Center Web site at www.womenshealth.gov.