A lot has been written about breastfeeding in recent years, and if you are the parent of an infant or small child, you have undoubtedly read at least a little on the subject already. You may, in fact, have read so much that you wonder what more could possibly be said on the subject that would be news to you. A great deal, surprisingly. Although medical literature is full of reports of studies concerning breast milk and breastfeeding, very little of the information is actually available to the general reading public. In this article, I will share some of the scientific findings concerning breastfeeding and the mother-child relationship during this special time.
When breast milk begins to flow (approximately two to three days after delivery), it, too, provides important vitamins and minerals for your baby, including the brain-cell builder taurine. While taurine is not an essential amino acid, its high concentration in breast milk does seem to indicate a need that cannot be met by the child’s own body. But how much taurine is in formula or cow’s milk? None! Yet extremely high levels of this “smart” substance are found in the brains of children, indicating that it is an important aid to brain growth. Ninety-six percent of brain growth occurs by the age of five years. The average age at which a child weans in cultures that practice infant-led weaning is – you guessed it – five years.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is a wonderful gift for the mother as well as for the baby. Many mothers feel fulfillment and joy from the physical and emotional communion they experience with their child while nursing. These feelings are augmented by the release of hormones, such as:
- Prolactin: Produces a peaceful, nurturing sensation that allows you to relax and focus on your child.
- Oxytocin: Promotes a strong sense of love and attachment between the two of you.
These pleasant feelings may be one of the reasons so many women who have breastfed their first child choose to breastfeed the children who follow.
Health Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding provides health benefits for mothers beyond emotional satisfaction.
- Mothers who breastfeed recover from childbirth more quickly and easily. The hormone oxytocin, released during breastfeeding, acts to return the uterus to its regular size more quickly and can reduce postpartum bleeding.
- Studies show that women who have breastfed experience reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer later in life.
- Some studies have found that breastfeeding may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Breastmilk is the ideal food for infants. It is safe, clean, and contains antibodies that help protect against many common childhood illnesses. Breastmilk provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one third during the second year of life.
Myths of Breastfeeding
When you’re pregnant or a new mom, you hear lots of stories about breastfeeding. Some of them may make you wonder whether breastfeeding is right for you.
Here are a few common myths to watch out for. Don’t let them scare you—most of them don’t have any basis in fact.
Myth? You should separate a newborn and mother to let the mother rest.
- Doctors, nurses, and midwives often encourage the practice of ‘skin-to-skin’ – also known as kangaroo mother care – immediately after birth. Bringing your baby in direct contact, so their skin is against yours, is a very important practice that helps them to find and attach to the breast. If you can practice this within one hour after birth and then frequently after, it helps to establish breastfeeding.
Myth? You should only eat plain food while breastfeeding.
- Like everybody else, breastfeeding mothers need to eat a balanced diet. In general, there is no need to change food habits. Babies are exposed to their mothers’ food preferences from the time they are in the womb. If a mother perceives that her baby reacts to a specific food she eats, it is best to consult a specialist.
Myth? Exercise will affect the taste of your milk.
- Exercise is healthy, also for breastfeeding mothers. There is no evidence that it affects the taste of your milk.
Myth? Many mothers can’t produce enough milk.
- Almost all mothers produce the right amount of milk for their babies. Breastmilk production is determined by how well the baby is latched on to the breast, the frequency of breastfeeding, and how well the baby is removing milk with each feeding.
Optimal breastfeeding means a child should be immediately breastfed within the first hour after delivery and exclusively breastfed, with no water, fruit, formula milk or other foods, for the first six months. Then, breastfeeding should continue from six months to two years or beyond and complemented with other safe and nutritionally adequate foods as recommended by the UNICEF, and the World Health Organization.
It may take almost a week for you and your baby to nurse successfully – but don’t give up! Because Breastfed children perform better on intelligence tests, are less likely to be overweight or obese, and less prone to diabetes later in life.