Breast milk is the perfect combination of protein, carbohydrates, and fat, as well as antibodies and amino acids for digestion, brain development, and growth. Breast milk, especially colostrum, the rich, milky substance your breasts produce in the first days after your baby is born, boosts your baby’s immune system while fighting off bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
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But while breastfeeding is the natural option for feeding your baby, it does not always come naturally. Like standing and walking and talking, it’s something we learn with practice. And, thank goodness, babies give their mothers time to learn, as their need for food in their first days is minimal. Once you’ve gotten the hang of breastfeeding, you will actually find that it may be the easiest, and best option for feeding your baby.
Babies who are breastfed:
- Are less likely to suffer from stomach infections.
- Suffer half the ear infections, less diarrhea, fewer colds, flus, cancers, skin diseases, and digestive and urinary tract problems.
- Are protected from bronchitis, bronchiolitis, pneumonia, asthma, and other allergies.
- Are less likely to develop insulin dependent diabetes, some lymphomas, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and breast and ovarian cancers.
Breastfeeding is an investment in your baby’s health and in your peace of mind. But your baby isn’t the only one who benefits from breastfeeding.
Mothers who breastfeed:
- Are half as likely to get pre-menopausal breast cancer.
- Have a lower risk for ovarian cancer and osteoporosis.
- Lose weight much more quickly.
- Don’t have to bother with measuring, sterilizing, and all the rest, and have more money at the end of the month.
Breastfeeding also forces you to take care of yourself following your baby’s delivery. You need to get plenty of rest and continue to eat for two, consuming well-balanced meals and an extra 500 calories a day to produce a sufficient amount of milk for your baby. You need to make sure that you’re getting enough iron and fluids, and you should continue to avoid substances that were off-limits during your pregnancy, such as caffeine, alcohol, and other toxins, as well as anything that seems to upset your baby’s stomach, such spicy food.
If you suffer from sore breasts or mastitis, applying moist heat and massaging your breasts prior to nursing will help, but so will simply continuing to breastfeed. To soothe nipple pain, use a warm compress or simply continue to nurse, making sure that your nipple is centered and completely inside your baby’s mouth.
To establish a healthy nursing habit, you should nurse for at least two to three hours a day at first, although you may quickly graduate to nursing as often as eight or twelve times a day, since breastmilk can be digested within an hour and a half. This gives your baby the opportunity to eat the hindmilk, which is very high in fat and calories.
Your baby will set the pace of your feedings and as long as you are feeding him whenever he’s hungry, he should be getting enough to eat. A good indicator that he’s getting enough is the number of diapers he goes through in a day. In the first few days, he will probably go through one or two diapers a day, and after your milk comes in, at least six. A breastfed baby less than two months old should have two or more bowel movements a day, with less frequent bowel movements after the first couple of months when your baby is able to digest your milk better. Your doctor can also double-check that your baby is eating enough by checking his weight against standard growth charts for his age.
If you want to express your milk, but don’t want to use it immediately, you can freeze it for later. The best storage containers are made of hard plastic or glass, but you can also use plastic freezer bags – just be sure to double bag to protect against freezer burn and leaks.
The length of time you may safely store your breast milk depends on how you freeze it. According to Dr. Sears, you can safely freeze your breast milk for up to two weeks in a freezer compartment within a refrigerator, three or four months in a self-contained freezer unit in a refrigerator, and six months in a separate deep freeze unit with a constant temperature. Click here for more information and a printable chart on freezing breastmilk.
You should stop breastfeeding when you and/or your baby decide that it’s time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least one year, but only you and your baby can decide how long to breastfeed.