Thursday, April 28, 2005

Breastfeeding: Good for Moms and Babies

Here are some tips on breastfeeding for mothers-to-be.

1. Breastfeeding provides the very best food for your baby. Nature's natural food gives the baby all the immune system boosters and nutrients it needs for the big process of growing. No infant formula can completely duplicate mother's milk for the baby. There are big advantages to even breastfeeding your new baby for a few days, since the colustrum, the thin fluid that comes from the breast before the actual milk comes in, provides a jumpstart to the baby's immune system. Many studies have shown that breastfeeding is a great advantage to the baby's health, in many different areas.

2. Many women have problems with breastfeeding, and the first baby is usually the hardest. It's easy to get frustrated when problems occur, but if a mother sticks with it and gets support, most problems can be solved. One would think that if breastfeeding is so natural, it would be instinctual to the mother and the baby, and they should both know just what to do, but that doesn't always seem true. I had four children and nursed all of them. The first baby was very small and it was hard for her to nurse because her mouth was so small. After the milk started coming she would often get choked because she couldn't swallow it as fast as the milk flowed; however, after she got older the problems disappeared. Not giving up at the first problem is important for successful breastfeeding.

3. Support is very important, especially if the mother experiences problems at first. Being reassured that everything is okay, that you're doing it right, and that the baby is being properly nourished are all things that mothers like to hear. Many new mothers have mothers, aunts, grandmothers, or friends who have breastfed and can offer good advice. For those who don't have that, La Leche League is a good support group. This group has been around since the 1950s, and its name means "the milk" in Spanish. There are local chapters all over, with nursing mothers serving as leaders. Meetings are held in which questions about breastfeeding are answered, and nursing mothers can share problems and success stories and receive the support they need. I joined a La Leche League group when breastfeeding was not as popular as today, and the support I received was very reassuring. Just about every problem that I faced had been faced by the other mothers in the group, and I got lots of encouragement from attending meetings. Mothers-to-be can get instruction before having the baby that will make breastfeeding easier after the birth.

4. Breastfeeding is the best way to bond with a new baby. The closeness felt between mother and baby is very special, and the mother must hold and cuddle the baby as it nurses, leading to the baby feeling loved. I used to carry my baby around in a Snugli pak so she could nurse whenever she wanted, and the closeness was very comforting to her. Mothers also get a rest while breastfeeding the baby; a bottle-fed baby can be left in a bed or carrier with a propped-up bottle, but nursing babies have to have mother sitting down and holding the baby, getting its full attention. Babies who are sick are comforted while breastfeeding, and babies on breast milk have a very sweet smell, causing the mother to shower them with kisses. Breast milk also doesn't stain clothes or linens as formula does. The baby will come to see breastfeeding as a comfort when hurt, tired, or sick; many babies don't easily give it up when time to be weaned from the breast.

5. Breastfeeding is very good for the mother as well as the baby. With my first baby, I gained forty pounds; I was shocked when my baby came a little early and only weighed 5 ½ pounds. After subtracting the baby's weight from what I had gained, I was depressed. Nursing the baby, however, caused me to easily lose most of the weight in a short time. It apparently takes lots of calories to make milk, and I could eat lots of food and still not gain weight. Drinking enough fluids is very important to making enough milk for the baby. There are foods that some say are to be avoided while nursing, such as chocolate or garlic, but my babies never seemed to have a problem with any foods I ate. Another plus of breastfeeding is that periods often don't come back for several months after the baby is born. Women who nurse their babies for a long time and space the babies a couple of years apart often don't have periods for years. Some studies show that breastfeeding protects the mother against things like breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and other illnesses.

6. What will happen to your breasts when you breastfeed? Some women think that nursing a baby will make their breasts saggy and unattractive, but time does that even without nursing. Most women have an increase in breast size while nursing, sometimes dramatically, and fathers like that. Nursing mothers' figures sometimes change to a very nice shape after birth; larger breasts and increased weight loss from nursing are advantages to breastfeeding a baby.

7. Convenience is a big advantage of breastfeeding a baby. Being basically lazy sometimes, I always found not having to get out of bed and heat bottles a big plus in the middle of the night. I co-slept with my babies on a king-size bed when they were small, and when they were hungry they would just nuzzle up to me and eat. My husband rarely woke up during the process. Going on trips was great since I didn't have to drag along a lot of bottles and other equipment. If I went to the mall or over to see a friend, I took the baby's milk right with me; there was rarely a crying, hungry baby waiting to get home to get fed.

8. The cost of breastfeeding is much less than buying formula. Babies who are successfully breastfeeding do not need solid food as early as babies who are formula-fed, and although the mother may need to eat more as the baby drinks more milk, the cost of baby food is less. Making baby food at home is easy once the baby gets old enough to eat; a small food grinder or a blender can allow the baby to eat much of the food you eat. My babies never really cared for bland baby foods; they much preferred the breast milk even after they began to eat solid foods.

9. Even mothers who have to go back to work can continue to breastfeed. My daughter went back to work about a month after her daughter's birth, and she used an electric breast pump to extract milk for the baby. She continued the process for several months, and of course could nurse the baby once she got home and before leaving for work. While it was a little more trouble for her, it helped both her and the baby, as she gained the extra health benefits and so did the baby. Many women who are convinced breastfeeding is the best thing for their babies are able to successfully continue nursing after returning to work.

10. If you're about to become a new mother, consider breastfeeding. Although breastfeeding used to be something that polite people didn't discuss and was out-of-fashion for awhile, most people now realize that it's the best thing for babies. Consider your baby's health and that of your own as you make the decision whether or not to nurse your baby. Try it, you and your baby will like it!

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