Breastfeeding Your Baby
The decision to breastfeed is often a very complicated one, and requires consideration of a variety of factors. Our society has swung from a completely formula fed infancy to use of natural resources, i.e. breast milk, based on years of research and experience. Be prepared though, that this decision should not be made lightly, because though it comes natural for some moms and babies, it does require lots of work, self determination and commitment. In the end, the decision is yours but of course involves the cooperation from your baby and support from those around you. Here are a few quick tips to help you weigh in on the decision.
You may have heard that breast milk is known as "liquid gold." In fact, a majority of breast milk is water, but it is rich in nutrients and vitamins. The first few days post delivery, the milk is known as colostrum, a much thicker and concentrated breast milk. Its special ingredients include human growth factors, as well as immunoglobulins passed on from the mother. Because of its special and unique properties, this milk is often stored and packaged for sale, targeting populations such as premature infants and very critically ill infants in newborn intensive care units. Since newborns cannot make their own immunoglobulin until after six months of life, the passive immunity they receive from the mother can help to improve their immunity and decrease infections during this time period. Furthermore, studies have shown that breast feeding decreases risks of sudden infant death, allergies, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. Despite our technology, we have been unable to replicate this unique nutrient, found only in breast milk. Breastfeeding mothers should be reminded to continue their prenatal vitamins, as well as considering iron and vitamin D supplementation for their newborn.
Besides the advantages to the infant, there are other very important reasons why a new mother would benefit from breastfeeding. During pregnancy, a woman typically gains between 20-40 pounds, not all baby weight, but as an innate preparation for feeding your newborn. There is a direct relationship between breastfeeding and weight loss. Imagine if you will that your calories are being redirected into breast milk, which in turn feeds your baby with all the necessary nutrients. Additionally, there are some conflicting views as to whether or not breastfeeding can be used as a form of contraception. I would not recommend depending solely on this form of birth control, unless you are well prepared for an unplanned pregnancy. But generally speaking, breast feeding can inhibit the hormones that induce menstruation, especially in the first few months. However, at any time, your menstrual cycle may resume despite having adequate milk production. Conversely, using hormonal contraceptives can decrease your milk production. If you choose to go with hormones, its best to use progesterone only products such as Depo-Provera or the progestin only pill (mini-pill). Other non-hormonal options include spermicides, condoms, diaphragm, or natural family planning.
Once you've made the decision to breastfeed, be prepared for some challenges but rest assured many women have walked down the same path. The biggest challenges are latching and milk production. In the larger scheme of things, these two factors are mainly what limit and discourage moms from accomplishing and perfecting nursing. The key to success is having appropriate support, whether from other nursing mothers (such as La Leche League), nursing or lactation consultants, and of course pure determination. Everyone can breastfeed successfully if equipped with the right support, since we are all built with the appropriate physique. Major concerns with latching consist of a few major factors on the mothers side, having inverted nipples, or poor infant positioning. Some infants may also have latch and suck issues, especially premature newborns (technically those born at <36 weeks gestational age). Again, given the right support and practice, both mom and baby can succeed. The most important thing is not to give up, and where possible, get assistance from a lactation consultant.
After you and your child adapt to each other and latch, you'll find your mind often starts wondering whether your child is getting adequate supply. Rest assured, you are equipped with everything necessary to fulfill your child's thirst. Your breast milk is produced on a simple equation of supply and demand. As long as there is a constant demand, your body will automatically produce breast milk. However, we all will produce at varying quantities, but do not be discouraged if you are not a natural 8 or 16 oz. milk producer. It's more important to focus on whether your child is gaining weight, and is satiated after feeds. Often times in the first few months of nursing, having your child weighed regularly can help to assure women that in fact their breast milk is adequate to sustain their growing infant. Factors that can affect your milk production include adequate hydration, sleep and low levels of stress. There are some women who use Mother's milk tea to supplement their milk supply, but remember that supply=demand. This means feeding on a regular schedule. Lactation consultants can also help you strategize to increase your milk supply with various pumping or feeding schedules.
Nursing can be such a beautiful and unique experience, one that allows you to nurture your child in the most intimate ways. Furthermore, it's one of the best ways to provide all the right nutrients for your newborn, including your precious immunity, which can't be replicated. Hopefully you won't let the challenges of breastfeeding prevent you from enjoying the benefits, such as weight loss and natural contraception. There are trained lactation consultants and support groups who can help you succeed, even in Shanghai. Happy bonding!
This article was written by Dr. Mai Kong Xiong, a General Medicine Physician from Shanghai United Family Hospitals and a staunch supporter of nursing mothers.For more information on her profile please see the talk she gave to Bumps & Babes Pudong on Caring For Female Health.
Read these notes from a past talk about breastfeeding: All About Breastfeeding