Written By: Irene Castillo, MPH, RDN
Motherhood comes with so many choices. Breastfeed? Formula? A combo of both? Parenting paths vary, so to help you make the best decision regarding breastfeeding, we did some research on its many benefits and found some helpful info to share with you. Ready? Let’s go!
Breastfeeding promotes health, immunity, wellness and emotional development for your infant. How? Breast milk is a living fluid that changes throughout your breastfeeding journey to meet the growing needs and overall development of your baby. During the first days of your baby’s life, your body produces colostrum, a thick sticky fluid that imparts immunity to your baby when it is most vulnerable. As your breastfeeding journey continues, the colostrum shifts into the more liquid breastmilk that sustains your baby’s health and needs. So, what’s in this magical milk? Human milk contains a multitude of nutrients including proteins, fats, carbohydrates, enzymes and hormones, antibodies and other disease-fighting cells, growth factors, anti-allergens, micronutrients including vitamins and minerals, and water. And that’s just a general list since human milk is so complex!
So what does this living fluid do? It protects infants against infection and inflammation and helps them develop a healthy gut, immune system, and organs resulting in fewer gastrointestinal disturbances, ear infections, and allergies. Wow! How remarkable is the human body?!
Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Connection
The connection of an unwrapped baby lying directly on its parent’s skin is called skin-to-skin contact. This contact is recommended for all moms (and even dads!) and their newborns regardless of feeding or delivery method, and immediately after birth. Why is skin-to-skin important? Well, it’s shown to help regulate the baby’s body temperature, blood sugar, and heart rate. Also, babies are more alert and cry less during this skin-to-skin snuggle time which helps initiate bonding and breastfeeding. Did you know that a baby can use their sense of smell to find the breast and latch-on to feed? Once again, the human body is truly incredible! Double Wow!
Oral Health Benefits
Okay, so what does all this mean for your child’s oral health? According to the American Dental Association, babies who only breastfeed for the first six months of life are less likely to have teeth alignment issues such as open bites, crossbites, and overbites since feeding at the breast promote optimal jaw and tooth development. Furthermore, human milk strengthens teeth by setting calcium and phosphorus on them. That’s pretty great!
But wait, there’s more! Another benefit of only breastfeeding is the reduced risk of “baby bottle tooth decay.” What is this you might ask? It’s a specific type of decay that occurs when a baby is placed in bed with a bottle containing formula, milk, or fruit juice. This routine results in babies falling asleep with the bottle at the mouth. This promotes decay typically in the upper front teeth, but sometimes other teeth may also be affected because the sugar in these liquids feeds the bacteria in the mouth resulting in acids that erode the enamel. This is less likely to happen with breastfeeding. Triple wow! Breastfeeding positively impacts your baby’s oral health!
The Breastfeeding Relationship
Breastfeeding may be a new experience for you and it’s certainly new for your baby, who will need to learn how to eat. It’s normal for there to be a period of trial and error as you and your baby establish a feeding routine, but you will be learning together! It’s just like learning a new dance with a new partner. It takes time and practice but it can be challenging for many new moms. It’s important to relax and breathe but often that is easier said than done. Your emotions are tied to the letdown response of breastmilk and stress and anxiety can interfere with this reflex; furthermore, your baby can sense when you’re anxious. So try to get as comfortable as possible – grab a pillow for support or try listening to some music that calms you! Just remember, you’re not alone and support is there for you and it’s okay to ask for help. Expert lactation consultants are at the ready to address issues with proper positioning, effective latch-on, and painful breastfeeding.
Essentials of Good Positioning
- The mother is comfortable with arms and back supported.
- The mother does not lean over the baby
- The baby directly faces the breast without having to turn his head.
- The baby’s knees are close to the mother.
- The baby’s ear, shoulder, and hips are in a straight line.
- The baby’s body is well supported.
Signs of an Effective Latch
- Baby has taken the breast-deep in his or her mouth.
- Baby takes in more areola with his bottom jaw than his upper jaw.
- The baby’s lips are flanged out not curled in.
- When the baby comes off the breast, the nipple does not look flattened.
- Mother does not experience pain during the feeding.
So, how long should you breastfeed? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends mothers exclusively breastfeed their baby for the first six months of life, and then continue to provide whole foods with breast milk for at least 12 months. Human milk continues to be a source of both optimal nutrition and immune protection well into your baby’s second year of life. It’s important to note that breastfeeding time varies among mothers depending on their milk supply and lifestyle – it’s all okay! Always remember the right choice is the one that feels comfortable for you and your family!
Well, we sure learned a lot and we hope you did too! And as always, don’t hesitate to reach out to us or your pediatrician for more guidance. Stay healthy, Sugarbugs!