Breastfeeding provides your newborn baby with nutrients required for healthy development and growth. The yellowish sticky breast milk called colostrum, produced at the end of pregnancy, is the most recommended and perfect food for the newborn. Breastfeeding should be initiated within the first hour of birth for at least 6 months and may be continued for up to 2 years of age and beyond, along with suitable complementary foods. Because of its benefits, breastfeeding has been endorsed by many government initiatives.
Benefits of breastfeeding for the baby include:
- The breast milk is in the most digestible form of food and has a perfect mix of fat, proteins and vitamins that is required for the baby’s growth.
- Antibodies present in the breast milk improve the baby’s immunity and help fight against viruses, bacteria and allergies.
- Infants who are breastfed for 6 months have fewer ear infections, diarrhoea, respiratory illnesses and hospital visits.
- Breastfed infants may have higher IQ scores in later childhood.
- Breastfed infants may have low risk of obesity, diabetes and certain cancers, and may evade sudden infant death syndrome.
- Breastfeeding helps in building a bonding with the mother and improves the feeling of security in the child.
Benefits of breastfeeding for the mother include:
- It helps you burn extra calories and lose weight faster.
- The oxytocin hormone released helps in returning the uterus to its original size and also reduces post-delivery uterine bleeding.
- It lowers your risk of osteoporosis, ovarian and breast cancer.
- It saves time and money on baby formulas, etc., and helps you build a strong bond with your infant.
You can follow any of the positions which will help you and you baby relax and remain comfortable during feeding. Some common positions for breastfeeding include:
Cradle position: Place you baby in such a way that the baby’s head rests in the fold of your elbow while the whole body faces you. Support your baby by positioning his or her belly against your body and wrap with your free arm around to support the baby’s head and neck.
Football position: Your baby’s back can be placed along your forearm, while you use your palm to support the head and neck. This position is best for newborns and if you are recovering from a caesarean as it protects your stomach from excessive pressure.
Side-lying position: This is the best position for feeding during nights or during an episiotomy recovery (vaginal incision during delivery). You can lift your breast and place the nipple into your baby’s mouth by using your free hand. After proper latching you can support your baby’s neck and head to avoid twisting or straining during feeding.
Process to ‘latch on’
Your baby should be latched on properly to your nipple before feeding. This helps avoid sore nipples. The process to help your baby latch on includes:
- Place your baby in a comfortable position facing you so that he/she does not have to twist their neck to breastfeed.
- Gently stroke the baby’s lower lip with your nipple. Your baby will instinctively open the mouth wide.
- Bring the baby’s mouth closer to your nipple and centre the nipple above the baby’s tongue.
- The baby’s lips should cover the nipple and a part of the areola (darker skin around your nipple) as well to ensure correct latching. You may feel slight painless tingling sensation during breastfeeding.
- If the baby hasn’t latched on correctly, release the suction by placing your finger in the baby’s mouth, remove the nipple and try again.
Several challenges that breastfeeding mothers face include:
- Sore nipples: If you experience nipple soreness, ensure that your baby latches on correctly. You will have to empty the milk ducts to avoid swelling, pain and hardness of the breasts.
- Dry, cracked nipples: Avoid cosmetics containing alcohol that can make the nipples dry and cracked. Applying lanolin after breastfeeding may also help. Changing bra pads often will help keep the nipples dry.
- Blocked ducts: Blockage of ducts may cause a sore spot on your breast. This can be relieved with a warm compress, frequent nursing and massage.
- Breast infection (mastitis): This is a bacterial infection which results in flu, fever and fatigue. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection, and you may continue to breastfeed your infant.
- Pumping and storing milk: If you are going back to work, you can express milk by hand or with a breast pump and refrigerate it. Refrigerated milk should not be thawed in a microwave, but in a bowl of warm water. You can start experimenting with bottle-feeding early, since the baby will take a few weeks to get adjusted.
- Stress: Being stressed can interfere with the release of milk into the milk ducts. It is advised to be calm and relaxed during nursing to allow easy flow of milk.
- Producing sufficient milk: Many women worry that they are not producing enough milk. A general rule is that a baby wetting six to eight diapers in a day is getting sufficient milk. Your body will produce a constant supply if you breastfeed your baby frequently and regularly, even if you have small breasts. Milk production will also depend on good nutrition, plenty of water and ample amount of rest.
Breastfeeding can harm the baby in few situations. Breastfeeding is contraindicated if you are:
- HIV positive
- Receiving chemotherapy
- Using illegal drugs
- Taking prescription medicines for migraine, headache, arthritis or Parkinson’s disease
- Your baby has galactosemia (inability to tolerate galactose in the breast milk)
Talk to your doctor regarding breastfeeding if you are on any medication. It is important to note that having flu or cold should not stop you from feeding, as your child will gain immunity against the infection.
ABC of breastfeeding
A=Awareness: You should watch out for the signs of hunger and breastfeed when your baby is hungry. Avoid waiting till your baby gets cranky or shows signs of frustration when he/she is too hungry. In the first few weeks, you would be nursing your new born 8-12 times in a day.
B=Being patient: Avoid hurrying your baby while breastfeeding. Be patient and take as long as your infant wants to be nursed. Typically, infants nurse on each breast for about 10-20 minutes.
C=Comfort: You should be comfortable while you breastfeed to allow easy flow of the milk. Use pillows to support your head, neck, arms and foot before you start to feed your infant.