Breastfeeding protects the baby’s health and benefits the mother. Every mother should be encouraged and facilitated to breastfeed unless there is serious medical reason to the contrary.
Milk contains as much fat, sugar, water, protein and minerals as are necessary for the development of the baby. In addition, as the baby grows, the composition of breast milk is altered to suit different nutritional needs. Breast milk has antibodies that protect newborns from various diseases, such as infections, diarrhea, respiratory problems and allergies. The more a baby breastfeeds, the greater the benefits to his or her health are at infancy and later. In addition, sudden infant death syndrome occurs less frequently in breastfeeding babies.
The intake of breast milk is particularly beneficial for premature babies. The prematurity is associated with short and long term health problems, but breastfeeding reduces the risk.
For the mother, breastfeeding triggers the release of oxytocin, the hormone that causes the uterus to contract, helping it return to its normal size more quickly. At the same time, it can reduce blood loss following childbirth and help the mother regain her pre-pregnancy body weight.
The most important “gain”, however, for a breastfeeding woman is that it reduces the chances of getting breast and ovarian cancers.
A woman who becomes a first-time mother may feel that breastfeeding, though a completely natural process, requires a brief period of familiarization. At this point, it should be emphasized that the role of the physician, midwife, and mother’s friend and family environment is important and should encourage her to persevere in breastfeeding. Few, moreover, are women who cannot breastfeed, and the cause is usually some condition.
Immediate contact of the newborn with the mother’s arms and skin immediately after childbirth activates the breastfeeding reflex. To help the baby, the mother should offer her breast and touch its lower lip with her nipple. The newborn will open its mouth and the mother will just bring it closer to her chest, directing her nipple to its palate.
For the first six months of the baby’s life, exclusive breast-feeding is recommended. Then, food intake begins gradually, and breastfeeding should continue until the first year is complete. The introduction of complementary foods before the first six months is a good idea to avoid, as it does not provide development benefits. It simply reduces the protective value of breast milk, since the baby is less breastfed. Beyond that, you can breastfeed your baby for as long as you wish.
There is no “maximum time limit” beyond which breastfeeding must be terminated nor there is evidence that the child may suffer some damage, psychological or physical, even if breastfeeding is continued until the third year of life or longer.
How often a baby should breastfeed depends on its needs. During the first weeks, most newborns are breastfed at least eight times during a 24-hour period or every 2 to 3 hours. However, not all babies follow the same eating pattern. Some newborns may breastfeed at denser times or stay in their mom’s breasts for a long time. As you become familiar with the process, it will be easier for you to know when your baby is hungry. When they feel the need to feed, babies usually behave more vividly, move their hands, clench their fists, and put their fingers in their mouths.
As you become familiar with the process, you will find that breastfeeding also benefits in some practical respects, making your life easier. For example, you don’t spend time sterilizing bottles, boiling milk and then cooling it down to the right temperature.
In order to meet your increased nutritional needs and produce the milk needed for breastfeeding, you need to consume about 500 extra calories a day in relation to your pre-breastfeeding needs. Make sure your diet includes meat, fish, fruits and vegetables and covers all the ingredients your baby and body need. Daily consumption of coffee in a limited amount is not harmful. As for alcohol, it is best to avoid it altogether or – if you drink occasionally – consume it in a very small amount and allow at least 2 hours before you breastfeed, once you have finished your drink.
Smoking, active or passive, is detrimental to the child, and therefore “prohibited” regardless of the effect it has on breast milk. As for medicines, seek the advice of your doctor before taking any medicine.