BENEFITS OF BREASTFEEDING AND TIPS
Breast milk is considered the best nutrition a mom can offer to her newborn. It is one of the biggest contributors towards infant health and offers a host of benefits to both, the mother and the baby. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for babies in the first six months of life in order to achieve optimum health and growth and developmental milestones. Once solid foods are introduced around 6 months, breastfeeding should ideally continue until 12 months of age and beyond based on the desire of the mother and baby.
Breastfeeding in Australia
Breastfeeding provides all the food and drinks your newborn baby will require in the first six months. In spite of all its benefits, the breastfeeding statistics in Australia indicate that many mothers fall short of embracing the advantages of their breast milk. As per the Australian National Feeding Survey in 2010, 96% mothers initiate breastfeeding once their baby is born. However, the rates of exclusive breastfeeding tend to fall as only 39% babies are breastfed exclusively till 3 months and only 15% continue to 5 months. Exclusive breastfeeding means that the baby receives only the mother’s milk, no other solids or liquids or even water. The only exceptions being any drops of vitamins, medicines or minerals and oral rehydration solutions as prescribed by paediatricians.
The Golden Hour
In order to gain maximum benefits of breastfeeding for the newborn baby, it is important to start as soon you can after birth. Most babies have an urge to suck right after birth and thus if both of you are doing well, it is highly recommended bringing your baby to the breast within the first hour. Your newborn baby will naturally find his way to the breast and start sucking once you keep him skin to skin on your chest. One of the unique features of breast milk is that it changes as per the needs of your baby, during the entire course of lactation. The initial breast milk is called colostrum, which is secreted during the first 2-4 days of your baby’s life. It is a yellowish and thick fluid that is rich in proteins and essential fatty acids. These are extremely useful for the development of your baby’s immune system.
Advantages of Colostrum
- The protein content in colostrum is digested and absorbed easily by the fast developing brain
- It also helps in mature development of the gut and aids in digestion
- Colostrum is considered to be the best well-designed nutrition for your little one in his initial days of life
After about 3-4 days, mother’s milk starts coming in, which is more whitish and tends to have a thinner consistency. The mother’s breast begins to feel fuller and firmer once milk supply has established properly. During every feed, the baby initially gets milk that is low in fat and calories and is thirst quenching (also known as foremilk). As the feed progresses, the milk received is higher in fat and calories (also known as hindmilk). The combination of foremilk and hindmilk ensure the baby’s thirst is quenched, and he receives all nutrients required for his growth. It is recommended to feed completely from one side first and only then move to the other side.
Breastfeeding Advantages for the Baby
- Breast milk offers superior nutrition to your baby and caters to all his needs for the first six months of life
- Babies who consume breast milk have a reduced risk of infections, which means fewer illnesses and visits to the hospital
- Also, many babies show a considerably low risk of allergies and lactose intolerance
- Breastfed babies tend to have lesser cavities
- Breastfeeding also promotes healthy development of baby’s jaw and teeth
- Breast milk is always sterile so fewer chances of infections
- Babies also tend to show fewer signs of thrush or nappy rash
- With regular intake of breast milk, babies show reduced chances of constipation and stomach upsets
- As babies are held more during breastfeeding, they tend to benefit emotionally as well
- Research suggests that breastfed babies are at a lower risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)
- With a long-term perspective, breastfed babies have a reduced risk of heart diseases, malnutrition and obesity
- It is also noted that breastfed babies have a higher IQ as they experience excellent brain development in the early stages of life
Breastfeeding Advantages for the Mother
- When the baby sucks, it causes the uterus to contract and helps to reduce the blood flow post delivery
- It is also noted that breastfeeding mothers generally lose weight and reach their pre-pregnancy body much easier as compared to bottle feeding
- Mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis later in life
- For moms who develop diabetes during pregnancy, breastfeeding can help in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- Compared to formula feeding, breastfeeding is economical and offers less worry as you don’t have to think about bottles or preparation
- Breast milk is also available round the clock and is always at the perfect temperature for consumption
- Breastfeeding mothers tend to have fewer visits to the doctor and also tend to spend less money on medicines
- It promotes a great mother-baby bonding
- The hormones that are released into a mother’s body during breastfeeding create a sense of warmth and calmness, helping you sleep better and feel relaxed
- Menstruation ceases in most women during breastfeeding, offering a kind of contraception (though it is best to speak to your doctor about taking necessary precautions)
Nutritional Benefits of Breast Milk
Breast milk contains all rich nutrients and has the perfect combination of fats, minerals, vitamins and carbohydrates as per your baby’s needs.
Around half of the energy from breast milk is derived from fat (nearly 3.5 grams is present in every 100ml of breast milk.) The fat content is breast milk comes from essential omega 3 and omega 6 fats. These are required for brain and eye development. Fat is generally released in small drops and as the breast empties and feed continues, the amount of fat in the milk continues to increase. Thus, it is important to let the baby feed fully from one side to ensure he gets all the important nutrients during the course of every feed.
Lactose, the milk sugar is the main source of carbohydrate in breast milk and there are around 7 grams in every 100ml of breast milk. This helps in calcium absorption and also promotes the growth of good bacteria in the baby’s gut. Lactose is a crucial source of energy and also helps in brain development.
Around 1.3 grams of protein is found in every 100ml breast milk, which is either whey protein or casein protein. Compared to other mammalian milk, whey is more than casein in breast milk and thus, infant formula is designed keeping the same ratio of whey and casein protein as per human breast milk. Breast milk only contains the A2 type and not A1 type milk like cows. Thus, most of the casein in breast milk is found to be A2 type beta-casein.
Vitamins and Minerals
Normally, breast milk will contain all essential vitamins and minerals required by your baby during the first six months. However, if somehow your milk supply is compromised, a healthcare professional might advise supplementation. Mothers with a high level of Vitamin D tend to pass the benefits to their breastfed baby as well. You can also take your baby out in the sun for walks while following sun protection strategies, especially to cover the baby’s face and eyes.
Breast milk plays a vital role in the development of the baby’s gastrointestinal system and provides protection against various infections. Various antibacterial factors are present in breast milk which fight against a number of micro-organisms that may be a threat to the baby. Breast milk also helps in promoting a healthy gut and boosting immune functions of the baby.
More Bioactive factors
The enzymes present in breast milk act as messengers and carry signals between the body cells. They also stimulate the epidermal growth factors and enhance vitamin and mineral availability so that the baby can digest and absorb nutrients and is less prone to get infected by any foreign proteins.
Breast milk contains 88% water and thus, provides enough water to keep your baby hydrated at all times. Breastfeeding infants do not require any additional fluids, even in hot weathers if they have access to the breast.
The close skin to skin contact in breastfeeding enhances an emotional bond between the mother and baby and is one of the ideal foods for infant growth and development. For mothers who are unable to breastfeed due to any particular reason, supplements are always available but it is recommended to try to breastfeed your baby as much as possible. Under the Australian law, no one can stop a mother from breastfeeding her baby, wherever she needs to. So whether you need to nurse in public or need any support to help your breastfeeding journey, you can always find support in the country to help you do what’s best for you and your baby.