What is breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding or Nursing is when you feed your baby breastmilk, usually directly from your breast. Most medical experts agree on the fact that for the first 6 months of your baby’s life, exclusive breastfeeding is the key to the baby’s good health. After introducing other foods to the baby after 6 months of age, the mother should continue to breastfeed the baby for up to a year.
It is a very personal choice to breastfeed the baby, based on numerous factors, and is likely to draw many mixed opinions from family and friends. However, it is important to note that the bond between the mother and baby is unique, and the decision to breastfeed lies solely on the mother.
How often should I feed my baby?
The frequency of the feed depends on the baby. Some babies prefer smaller, yet frequent feeds while others may want longer feeds at a lower frequency per day. The time between feeds is subject to change; newborns feed every 2-3 hours, which grows to 3-4 hours at around 2 months of age, and by 6 months, the baby will usually want a feed every 4-5 hours.
Keep a watch for the following signs to know if your baby is hungry:
- Licking their lips
- Smacking their tongue
- The baby looks for your breast (Rooting)
- Putting their hand in their mouth
- Being cranky or fussy
- Sucking on their fingers/ thumb/ other objects within reach
Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding has many benefits, not just for the baby but the mother as well.
For the baby:
- It provides ideal nutrition for the baby. It contains everything a baby needs to grow during the initial months and even its components can change over time to meet the growing needs of the baby. The breast produces a high protein fluid called colostrum during the initial month and helps the baby’s digestive system to grow
- Breast Milk contains antibodies that helps your baby stay healthy and boost their immune system
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of certain diseases and issues such as ear infections, colds, respiratory tract infections, eczema, and diabetes amongst others.
- It promotes healthy weight gain in babies which is essential for their growth.
- It may help make babies smarter. This is attributed to the physical intimacy, touch, and eye contact, apart from its nutritional value.
For the mother:
- It may help the mother lose weight, as breastfeeding helps burn calories.
- Breastfeeding triggers the production of oxytocin which helps the uterus contract after pregnancy.
- It reduces the risk of postpartum depression.
- Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk for diseases and illnesses such as high BP, arthritis, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
- Continued breastfeeding pauses menstruation and ovulation.
How to breastfeed?
There are various poses and postures that can be recommended for breastfeeding. What works for one might not work for another. The important thing to remember is that both you and the baby need to be comfortable, and you do not have to strain to maintain the position. Getting the baby to ‘latch on’ to the breast is important to ensure proper feeding and your nipples also don’t get sore. Face your baby towards you, cup your breast with one hand and trace your nipple on your baby’s lower lip. The baby will instinctively open its mouth wide. Use this moment to bring the baby closer, so your nipple is right above the baby’s tongue.
While breastfeeding should be the main nutritional source for the first year of a baby’s life, there may be instances where it may be more detrimental than beneficial. It is ill-advised to breastfeed if:
- You’re HIV positive. The virus can be transmitted through breast milk to the baby.
- You have an untreated and active case of TB.
- You’re taking illegal substances and drugs.
- You’re undergoing chemotherapy.
- You’re on prescription medications for migraines or arthritis.
- Your baby has galactosemia, which makes them allergic to the natural sugars in the milk.
The decision to breastfeed your baby is solely yours but ensure to reach out to a doctor or other experienced friends and family members to help you navigate through this delicate time.