It is a widely accepted fact that breastfeeding benefits both mothers and children. For babies, breast milk is not only a primary source of nourishment, but it also acts like a magic potion that strengthens the immune system to fight diseases that may arise due to pregnancy complications.
Meanwhile, mothers who breastfeed lower their risk for type 2 diabetes and breast cancer; at the same time, it allows them to get back in shape after pregnancy.
Of course, breastfeeding is an acknowledged way for mothers and babies to form a special bond with one another.
What Does Breast Milk Contain?
Breast milk is packed with a lot of nutrients that babies do not usually get from other sources. It has a long list of components, but here are some of the most essential ones:
- Live cells. Live cells include millions of white blood cells that help boost a baby’s immune system as well as stem cells which are vital for developing and healing their organs.
- Proteins. Breast milk protein numbers to more than a thousand, which work collectively toward the growth, activation of the immune system, and brain development of babies.
- Amino acids. Amino acids are organic compounds that help the human body grow and function properly. Breast milk has more than 20 of these compounds, including sleep-inducing nucleotides.
- Oligosaccharides. Oligosaccharides are complex sugars with a prebiotic nature, so they help feed the children’s gut with friendly bacteria. At the same time, oligosaccharides lower the risk of brain inflammation by preventing infections within the bloodstream.
- Enzymes. Enzymes in breast milk speed up chemical reactions in the body, strengthening children’s digestion and immune system, as well as helping them absorb iron.
- Hormones. Some of the work that hormones do include regulating babies’ appetite and sleep.
- Vitamins and minerals. These nutrients aid in growth, organ function, teeth formation, and bone development.
- Antibodies. Antibodies or immunoglobulins protect babies from infection-causing viruses and bacteria.
The Stages of Lactation
The mother’s body prepares itself for breastfeeding as early as the first trimester. From breast tissue to milk ducts and glands—these are all part of the mechanism of how mothers produce breast milk.
Upon the baby’s birth and taken to a newborn services unit, the mom starts secreting the hormone prolactin to signal the production of breast milk within her body. Then breast milk is released in multiple stages:
Benefits of Breastfeeding to the Mom and Her Baby
Babies may be getting the maximum benefits of breastfeeding, but moms also benefit from it.
1. Breast milk is the best form of nutrition for newborns and infants. It has practically everything that babies need in the first six (6) months for their physical and mental growth and development. The enzymes in breast milk also make it easy to digest, so babies experience less vomiting and diarrhea.
2. Breastfeeding helps in keeping babies healthy. There is no lack of data that shows that breastfeeding lowers the children’s risk of contracting diseases or infections and weakens the severity of illnesses.
3. Breastfeeding promotes proper weight management. Compared to formula-fed babies, breastfed babies receive more gut-friendly bacteria, as well as hormones like leptin which help regulate appetite and fat storage. For each month of feeding on their mother’s milk, children’s obesity rate falls by 4%.
Moms who breastfeed are also less likely to become obese and hypertensive since they tend to burn fat or calories as they continue to lactate or produce milk. However, proper diet and exercise are still the main factors in stimulating weight loss among breastfeeding moms.
4. Breastfeeding helps prevent menstruation. Regular, consistent breastfeeding is like a natural form of contraception as it causes a pause in ovulation and menstruation among women. This is an ideal time for mothers to space their children’s birth while allowing them to recover before conceiving again.
5. Breastfeeding is a form of bonding between mothers and their children. As moms hold their child close to feed them, both are able to establish a connection with one another that is much deeper and stronger than the initial bond between them when the baby was still inside the womb.
In addition, breastfeeding moms produce oxytocin hormones, which have anti-anxiety benefits that help keep post-partum blues at bay.
How to Do It the Right Way
Just like parenting, breastfeeding is a skill that involves knowing the right techniques to make the whole process easier for moms and babies.
Some things to remember:
- Mothers are advised to tell their doctor if they want to start breastfeeding right after delivery. This allows babies to learn to suck early on while building up their mothers’ milk supply.
- Typically, babies up to three (3) weeks old would want to be fed every two (2) to three (3) hours. As they reach the 4th or 5th week, babies may show a less frequent but more regular feeding pattern. Mothers may also watch for signs of hunger, such as constant stirring or crying, sucking motions, and lip movements.
- Babies should be allowed to nurse from the first breast thoroughly or until the breast feels soft before they are offered the second breast.
- Ideally, babies should nurse on both sides of their mother’s breast alternately. Otherwise, mothers should pump the other breast to relieve pressure and protect their milk supply.
- Breastfeeding moms need to follow healthy choices in eating, fluid intake, rest times, and medication. For example, since breast milk may not be an adequate source of Vitamin D, mothers can consult their doctor about giving babies some supplements for better absorption of bone-building nutrients like calcium and phosphorus.
When to Stop Breastfeeding
Doctors recommend that mothers feed their babies with breast milk for at least one (1) year, with about six (6) months of exclusive breastfeeding. However, at a certain point, moms may decide to discontinue feeding their baby with breast milk.
This weaning process may start when moms include solid food in the baby’s diet and continue until such time that other food and drinks completely replace breast milk as the baby’s food. In other cases, mothers allow their children to wean on their own, waiting for the right time when their babies become ready to give up breast milk.
There is no rule set in stone as to when mothers should start weaning their babies, but sudden or abrupt weaning should be avoided. Whether moms choose to wean before or after the recommended six (6) months, it is still vital to seek a doctor’s advice or guidance about giving babies a healthy, balanced diet.
Breastfeeding: Nursing Children with Everything They Need
Breast milk is naturally beneficial for both children and moms, helping them stay healthy and close to one another. Through breastfeeding, mothers are able to provide for all of their baby’s needs, including nutrition, time, care, and attention.
For more information about pregnancy, breastfeeding and pediatric concerns, get in touch with Makati Medical Center.