Breast is Best. Yes yes. We have all heard the witty catch phrase. But what does it actually mean? Why is breastfeeding so important? Breast is Best for what?
In this post, we are going to discuss the benefits of breastfeeding for mom and baby, as well as discuss the advantages that the Golden Hour immediately after birth can offer. Finally, we will discuss the importance of having adequate support for the breastfeeding relationship.
Breast is best for baby
The importance of breastfeeding for the baby can not be understated. Breastfeeding is so much more than simply a method of delivery for physical sustenance. Breast milk is, quite literally, a miracle food that is impossible to be duplicated in any artificial setting. Each mother’s milk is completely unique and is specially formulated for her baby.
First, breast milk contains antibodies from the mother’s body. When a mother touches her baby, kisses her baby, or nurses her baby, her body is exposed to the same bacteria and viruses that her baby has been exposed to. Her body, in turn, produces antibodies to those potential threats to the baby and delivers them to him through her milk. Antibodies are living cells that cannot be duplicated.
Breast milk is ever changing. At the beginning of the feeding, the milk (called fore milk) is more water to quench the baby’s thirst. As the feeding progresses, the milk thickens and satisfies a baby’s hunger. By the end of the feeding, the milk (called hind milk) is thick, sweet, and creamy.
Furthermore, as a baby grows, the composition of the breast milk changes for the baby’s growing needs. Milk made for a newborn is not the same as milk made for a 6-month-old. A mother’s body knows exactly what her baby needs and responds accordingly, minute to minute and month to month.
Many mothers say that one of the greatest advantages to breastfeeding is having a convenient and built in ability to calm their baby. Breastfeeding is a great way to immediately calm a baby who is overwhelmed by the world as they transition into it.
In addition, breastfed babies have fewer ear infections, less incidence of pneumonia, less risk of asthma, lower risk of SIDS, stronger bones, and lower risk of cancer.
Breast is best for Mothers
Babies aren’t the only ones that benefit from breastfeeding. Mothers benefit tremendously as well.
Immediately postpartum, and in the days and weeks to come, breastfeeding helps reduce maternal bleeding. Oxytocin, the hormone that causes contractions in labor, is released when the baby breastfeeds. Oxytocin is what causes the uterus to involute, or shrink, back to it’s pre pregnancy size. As it involutes and contracts, the mother’s postpartum bleeding is reduced.
Oxytocin is also the love hormone and it facilitates bonding. Since it is released every time a mother nurses her baby, it is nature’s way of promoting bonding.
Breastfeeding suppresses the hormones that regulate menstruation and ovulation. In turn, fertility is temporarily suspended. This also means that the mother gets a break from having her monthly period. It is important to note that the length of time between birth and the first postpartum cycle is different for each mother and it is not a 100% effective form of birth control. It is a nice perk, however, to know that during the postpartum phase, fertility is not always 100%.
Women who breastfeed their babies lose the baby weight faster and easier. Fat stores that are gained in pregnancy are now being used for the baby. It takes 500 calories a day to breastfeed a baby! That’s a nice little bonus!
Women who breastfeed have a lower risk of breast cancer, and the exact cause for this is unknown. Furthermore, the longer a woman breastfeeds, the lower her risk of breast cancer.
Breastfeeding is inexpensive. Formula costs are astronomical. Enough said.
For as many benefits as breastfeeding offers, it’s a wonder why more women do not breastfeed, or why they do not continue breastfeeding after only days or weeks. There are several things a woman can do to optimize her chances of breastfeeding being successful, and ultimately it comes down to respecting the Golden Hour after birth and having support.
Breastfeeding and the Golden Hour
More professionals today are becoming educated about what is being called The Golden Hour. This is the first hour after the baby is born and it is a very sensitive time for both mother and baby. Mother just birthed her baby (a Herculean feat), and the baby is experiencing life outside the womb for the first time.
During the Golden Hour, immediately after birth, the baby is placed skin to skin on mother’s chest. Skin to skin is the foundation of the Golden Hour. During labor and immediately after birth, a mother’s nipples produce a pheromone that smells, to the baby, like the uterine fluid they just came from. This smell is familiar and it makes the baby drawn to the nipple to nurse, even without additional positioning help from the mother or support persons. Even when a baby is not being moved around by others, they can, amazingly, find the nipple all on their own to nurse.
Skin to skin facilitates bonding for both mom and baby, and evidence shows that if a baby nurses within the first hour of life, breastfeeding is more likely to be successful.
Meanwhile, while resting on the mother’s chest, the baby is being warmed to the perfect temperature. There is no technology in the world that can match a woman’s body as a baby warmer. A woman’s body can cool for an over warm baby and it can warm up for a baby who is cold.
Finally, a woman who wants to breastfeed her baby needs support. Breastfeeding is natural but not initially easy. Both mother and baby need to learn how to breastfeed and the learning process can sometimes be a challenging one. Support for a breastfeeding mother can come from many places.
In the early postpartum phase, nurses and lactation counselors can help mothers get a good start with breastfeeding by making sure they respect the Golden Hour. Once the baby nurses, they can make sure that the baby has a good latch. They can encourage mothers to breastfeed as often as possible to ensure a good supply is being built and they can affirm a mother in her early breastfeeding journey. A birth doula is a tremendous help for early breastfeeding in the immediate postpartum period as well, as they can help with the initial latch as well.
A mother’s partner at home can be one of the best forms of support. The partner can make sure a breastfeeding mother has enough water, is well rested, is well nourished, and is not overwhelmed by the demands around her. They can encourage the mother to continue even if there are difficulties or challenges in breastfeeding. Emotional encouragement can go a long way for a breastfeeding mother and its importance should not be undervalued.
As breastfeeding mothers continue nursing in the weeks and months postpartum, most benefit tremendously from support groups like their local La Leche League group. Lactation consultants are usually on staff at the hospitals and they can be consulted anytime a breastfeeding mother needs professional assistance.
Many hospitals have breastfeeding support groups available. Any Attachment Parenting or Babywearing group is likely to provide breastfeeding mothers with peer support.
Breastfeeding is worth it. It is worth it for mothers and babies for reasons we continue to discover. Setting up a support system for breastfeeding goes a long way toward success.