Breastfeeding your baby
The moments after your baby is born are incredibly special. After birth, you’ll likely spend some important bonding time with skin-to-skin contact, also known as kangaroo care. And within an hour, it’ll be time to feed your baby for the first time.
While choosing how to feed your baby is a personal choice, many new moms choose to breastfeed because of the benefits for both mom and baby. So, let’s take a look at the benefits of breastfeeding and what you can expect if you choose breast milk over formula.
What is breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding with milk from your breasts is the most natural way to feed and nurture your baby. Breast milk is the only food babies need for the first several months of their lives, which makes breastfeeding not just healthy, but economical, too.
The benefits of breastfeeding
There are many benefits to breastfeeding for both you and your baby.
Breastfeeding benefits your baby because:
- It can protect them from illness
- Colostrum, which is a special milk produced throughout your pregnancy and during the first few days of breastfeeding, is a natural laxative
- Skin-to-skin contact, or kangaroo care, during breastfeeding provides bonding and emotional security
- It reduces the risk of allergies, asthma, ear infections, SIDS, cancers and obesity
Breastfeeding benefits you because:
- It reduces breast and ovarian cancer risks
- It reduces blood loss after delivery through uterine toning
- It can help you lose baby weight
- It lowers the risk of postpartum depression
- It saves you time from shopping and money
What to expect before breastfeeding
You may have heard from close friends and relatives that breastfeeding can be challenging in the beginning. Breastfeeding may take some trial and error, but with some planning, perseverance and a bit of help at the start, you can successfully nurse your baby.
If you’re considering breastfeeding your baby, it's a good idea to discuss it with your healthcare provider while you’re still pregnant. He or she will be able to answer questions you may have about breastfeeding. In addition, you may like to sign up for childbirth and breastfeeding classes that can prepare you to begin breastfeeding after your baby is born. Many mothers also find comfort in having a close friend or loved one who can provide emotional support and answer questions when breastfeeding begins.
You may also want to buy some supplies that can make breastfeeding a little bit easier, such as:
- Breast pads
- Nipple creams
- A pillow to support your baby
- A breast pump, which can be used to give your baby stored breast milk even when you can’t be present for the feeding.
Shortly after you give birth, your breast milk will come in. You’ll notice that the texture and color of your milk changes over the first few weeks in three phases.
- In the first phase, your body produces colostrum, a nutrient-rich milk that helps to protect your baby against bacteria and viruses. Colostrum also serves as a laxative and will help your baby with his or her first bowel movement.
- During the second phase, your body produces transitional milk, which is a blend of mature milk and colostrum.
- The third and final phase is mature milk, which you usually begin producing about two weeks after your baby is born.
Your care team, including nurses and specially trained lactation consultants, can help you breastfeed for the first time by helping the baby latch on to your nipple and giving you tips on this important beginning period.
Following your first breastfeeding session, you should feed your baby "on demand" when she or he shows signs of hunger. However, you may need to initiate feedings in the first few days — about every one to three hours — so you and your baby get used to this process.
During these important first feedings, a lactation consultant can answer your questions and help you become more comfortable with the process.
What to eat while breastfeeding
Good news! Nursing mothers don’t need to follow a special diet. Experts simply suggest that you eat a diet that is nutritionally balanced — including plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and dairy (as your calcium is depleted when breastfeeding). And you’ll want to consume around 500 more calories per day while breastfeeding.
When nursing, some moms find that they can eat whatever they like, while some find that certain foods can leave their baby fussy or gassy.
While most strongly flavored foods can change the taste of your breast milk, most babies don’t mind. However, if you find that your baby is fussy after you eat a particular food, try to avoid that food for a few days and then reintroduce it to see if it’s the issue.
While there aren’t foods to avoid while breastfeeding, here are some common foods to limit:
- Oily fish, such as salmon or mackerel (no more than two 5-ounce portions per week)
- Caffeine (no more than two 8-ounce mugs of coffee or four 8-ounce mugs of tea per day)
- Alcohol (an occasional small glass of wine is fine)
- Anything you’re eating that could be making your baby fussy or gassy
Alternatives to breastfeeding
While most women are able to breastfeed, a small percentage of women aren’t able to produce enough milk. In addition, it may not be safe to breastfeed for some women who are receiving radiation treatment, are HIV-positive or have tuberculosis or another serious infection. It may also not be safe for you to breastfeed if you take certain medications that are passed through your breast milk. If you are being treated for a serious medical condition or infection, ask your doctor or healthcare provider if it is safe to breastfeed.
If you can’t breastfeed, your baby can still get vitamins and nutrients through infant formula feeding.
During visits with your care team, including your baby’s pediatrician, you can discuss breastfeeding issues and determine if it’s necessary to supplement breastfeeding with infant formula. You can also get support with breastfeeding through breastfeeding groups.
Find a breastfeeding class or group
You aren’t in this alone. Breastfeeding classes and support groups can help you understand what to expect and the benefits of breastfeeding.