The importance and benefits of breastfeeding for mother and baby
Breastfeeding is very important for your baby and for you. That’s why here at Lansinoh we have put together some information to help you to succeed in your breastfeeding goals. We want to enjoy this precious time with your baby and we want to help you overcome some of the common hurdles.
Breastfeeding your newborn baby
It is important to hold your baby skin-to-skin immediately after birth, or as soon as possible, allowing your baby to self-attach to your breast when he is ready – don’t hurry this important time of getting to know each other before the first feed.
Your first milk (colostrum) may be small in quantity, but it is rich in everything he needs. As it passes through his digestive system, it lines his stomach and intestines to better defend against bacteria and viruses. This is one of the reasons why it is important not to dilute it with water or formula feeds in those first few days before your milk comes in. Your colostrum also helps him to produce his first stool to excrete meconium (the substances ingested while in the womb).
Why breastfeeding is important for mum
From the very first feed you are creating a lasting bond with your baby, and giving him a feeling of comfort and security through skin to skin contact. Not only is breastfeeding free, but breastmilk is ready on demand at just the right temperature, without the need to sterilise bottles or carry around a bag of kit when out and about. And then there are some important ways that breastfeeding is good for mother, too …
The role of oxytocin
Skin to skin contact and the suckling of your baby at the breast immediately after birth encourages the release of oxytocin (the ‘love hormone’), which sends a signal to your breasts to release milk to your baby. Oxytocin also encourages your uterus to contract, to prevent haemorrhaging and begin to return to its pre-pregnancy size.
The hormones of lactation, oxytocin and prolactin, have an overall calming effect on mum – as you relax during a breastfeeding session, even your blood pressure falls.
Studies also suggest that, these hormones reduce the risk of postnatal anxiety and depression in breastfeeding women compared to mothers who are bottle-feeding. However, breastfeeding difficulties in the early days can be very stressful, so make sure you get the support you need, before the problems escalate.
Regulation of the menstrual cycle
Breastfeeding can delay the return of your period (thus conserving iron in your body), but while you are less likely to conceive during the first six months if you are fully breastfeeding, it is not a foolproof method so it is best not to rely on it totally.
Effect on metabolism
Another benefit for mums is that breastfeeding helps mobilise fat stores and burns up to 500 calories a day, to help you lose pregnancy pounds faster. A bottle feeding mum would need to cycle uphill for an hour in order to use up this many calories! In general, non-breastfeeding mothers lose less weight and are not as successful in keeping it off as breastfeeding women.
There is a suggestion that a breastfeeding mother’s metabolism changes to regulate blood sugar levels and this, together with more efficient weight loss and good cholesterol levels, may lead to a lower risk of heart problems for women who have breastfed.
Studies have shown breastfeeding provides advantages for mothers, including some protection against:
- premenopausal breast cancer.
- developing type II diabetes in the longer term.
- ovarian cancer – curiously, if you develop mastitis, your body produces factors which appear to reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer.
- osteoporosis in later life – for every 10 cumulative months of breastfeeding, the risk of osteoporosis is reduced by as much as 12%.
If your baby is breastfed, you will probably pay fewer visits to your GP, and experience less of the stress associated with caring for a sick baby. If you are planning to return to work, continuing to feed your baby with your milk can be a really important way of reducing the risk of having to take time off to care for a sick baby.
Breastfeeding can save the family a substantial amount of money compared to formula feeding.
Why being breastfed is important for your baby
Nutrients and antibodies
Your breastmilk is the only food designed specifically for your baby. It cannot be replicated with formula milks. It changes as he grows, to suit his needs. What is more, the nutrients in breastmilk are more easily absorbed than formula milk, so you can be certain that he is getting maximum benefit. Your baby is also being protected by the antibodies you produce just for him, in response to what you are both exposed to, and pass on through your milk.
Many of the benefits of breastfeeding are dose-dependent – the longer your baby is breastfed, the greater the benefits. There are many ways in which breastfed babies will be healthier than their formula-fed counterparts.
- Breastfed babies have fewer and less severe upper and lower respiratory tract infections; they are less likely to need hospitalisation.
- Ear infections are 3 to 4 times less common in infants who are breastfed.
- Breastmilk has factors which protect against urinary tract infections.
- Babies who are not breastfed are more likely to suffer from diarrhoea and gastroenteritis. Their feeds lack the protective factors in breastmilk and are more easily contaminated during preparation and storage.
- Constipation is much more common in formula fed infants than breastfed infants, whose stools are typically soft and sweeter smelling.
- Symptomatic gastro-oesophageal reflux is more common in formula fed infants because stomach emptying is slower and there is an increased risk of allergic reaction irritating the oesophagus.
- Breastfed babies respond better to vaccines, as their immune system is more mature.
- Breastfeeding is protective against SIDS, especially exclusive breastfeeding
Breastmilk contains vital substances to help the development of your baby’s brain, retina and central nervous system, as well as growth factors and hormones. Stem calls in breastmilk are thought to play a role in normal growth and development and may have an important functional role later in life.
The childhood and lifelong advantages of breastfeeding
There are both short and long term benefits for your baby if you breastfeed exclusively for the recommended time of six months, and thereafter together with solid foods for as long as you and your baby wish. Breastmilk never loses its health-giving properties.
Your colostrum and breastmilk are really important for establishing a healthy microbiome in your baby’s gut. It is now thought that the healthy bacteria established in the gut through exclusive breastfeeding may mediate many of the lifelong health advantages which result from being breastfed as an infant. How you feed your baby now may potentially be protecting him from intestinal inflammation, obesity, and other diseases later in life
Studies have indicated that children who are breastfed for longer periods in infancy have:
- fewer chest infections until at least the age of seven
- less risk of developing eczema and asthma
- a lower risk of developing obesity in childhood and in later life; the longer the duration of breastfeeding, the lower the risk.
- the best chance of achieving their full brain potential, including higher scores in intelligence tests.
- a decreased risk of developing childhood cancer.
- greater bone mineral density at age 8 and 17 year – this has the potential to delay or prevent osteoporosis in later life.
The proportion of children with optimal fine and gross motor skills, language, and personal/social skills increases as the duration of breastfeeding increases.
There are factors in human milk that are thought to mediate this – they cannot be replicated in formula milks. Some of the benefits may also result from the mother-baby interaction that is an important part of the breastfeeding relationship.
Breastfeeding and premature babies
If your baby is born prematurely, his immune system will be immature and his brain and other organs will be less developed than those of a full term baby. Your milk is even more important – it is like an essential medicine that only you can provide for your baby. It will help build up his strength and protect him from infection, especially the gut infections that can be so serious for premature babies.
If your baby is unable to feed at the breast at first, it is really important to start expressing your colostrum as soon as possible after giving birth. It will be fed to him by tube or other means as soon as he is stable. This can be a challenging time, but the staff at the hospital will support you and help you establish a good milk supply. If your baby is too small or too sick to take all of the milk you express, it can be frozen for later use.