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The Wonders of Breast Milk

Por Claudia M. González, MS, RD, LD/N* -
The Wonders of Breast Milk

Breast milk offers the best quality of food and nutrition you can provide to your baby. It has many benefits for both mother and infant. Substances in breast milk help build your baby's immune system and thus the ability to fight infection.

Breastfed babies have fewer allergic reactions such as: runny noses, skin rashes, spitting up, asthma, and colic or fussiness. A breastfed baby will probably have fewer cases of diarrhea and other digestive problems as well. Research shows that breast milk may offer protection against diseases like pneumonia, bronchitis, influenza, and polio. During the first six months of life, your baby needs nothing more than breast milk to meet his/her nutritional needs.

Breastfeeding also has health benefits for the mother. A woman's body recovers more quickly from pregnancy and childbirth, and it lowers her risk for breast and cervical cancer and osteoporosis later in life.

Breast milk--convenient, pleasurable, and economical

Breastfeeding costs less than commercial formula. It’s also less work than bottle-feeding. Diet modification is minimal, the typical daily calorie intake increase needed to support breast feeding is approximately 500 calories. It will take some effort initially to establish a routine, and adjust your schedule to accommodate going out of the house, to work, or to school. However, you may use a breast pump to extract breast milk when you are away. Try to plan ahead when possible. Some buildings may not have a private place for you to pump your milk, and you may have to seek out other possibilities.

Breastfeeding stimulates the brain to release a special hormone called endorphins. This hormone help you and your baby feel satisfied and relaxed. While breastfeeding, many mothers feel a combination of pure exhilaration, and relief all at once.

Breast milk--ever changing

The baby’s sucking stimulates the breast to secrete milk. Breast milk won’t actually flow until several days after delivery. Until then, your baby will benefit from colostrum (pre-milk liquid), which cleanses the intestines and protects against infection. After secreting colostrum, your breasts will secrete "transitional" milk, and then mature milk in about two weeks. Mature milk contains about 88% water. Its nutrient content is about 55% fat, 37% carbohydrate, and 8% protein.

Breast milk-does your baby get enough?

If you breastfeed often, your baby will probably get enough to eat (8 to 12 times in 24 hours). The more your baby nurses, the more milk you will make. If you formula feed or introduce baby food early (before 4 to 6 months), your baby will nurse less and your milk supply will decrease. Your baby should gain about 1 pound per month and wet at least 6 to 8 diapers a day, after he's 4 to 5 days old.

Breastfeeding tips

  • Alternate the starting breast. If you can't remember which one to start with, choose the breast that feels fuller and heavier.
  • Ask your health care provider for advice. Lactation consultants are available in many areas. You could ask for a referral to one in your area.
  • The size of the breast doesn't matter. If your nipples are flat or turned in, you can still breastfeed.
  • Get comfortable. Breastfeeding should not hurt. If nursing hurts your nipples, you may not have positioned the baby properly. Get help right away if you can't reposition the baby to feel comfortable.

Remember that breastfeeding provides the perfect food for your baby. You may even be able to breastfeed if you get sick, but always consult your doctor or nurse if you don’t feel well.

*Dietitian

 

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