If you are about to become a mum, you may already have decided between breastfeeding and formula feeding.
Unless you can't provide your son or daughter with breast milk due to a specific condition, you should consider very seriously the multiple benefits of breastfeeding for both you and your little one. That said, our purpose is for you to know as many details as possible about breastfeeding, so that you can choose what's best for you and your baby on the way during, at least, his first six months of life (from then on, you can start weaning your child).
With that in mind, we encourage you to read this quick guide in which you'll find complete information and tips as regards breastfeeding.
Why is breastfeeding so beneficial?
For a start, it's very important to pinpoint that breastfeeding has many advantages in terms of nutrition and health. Breast milk contains all the nutrients and vitamins that a baby needs during his first six months, and it also contributes to reinforce his immune system. Studies have proven that breastfed babies have extra protection from diseases such as stomach viruses, meningitis and ear infections, and they may also be at a lower risk of having Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and future obesity. But that's not all! Breastfeeding can prevent your child from having allergic reactions to food, since it helps making the intestinal tract more resistant by creating an extra layer that protects it from inflammation. On top of that, research has shown that breastfeeding can even improve your child's cognitive development.
And what about you? Well, breastfeeding may bring you good news as well. Nursing mums are thought to be less likely to suffer from postnatal depression, since breastfeeding makes your body release oxytocin, a hormone that helps reduce stress and anxiety levels.
Breastfeeding: Positions matter
The benefits of breastfeeding are clear, but to get the best out of it, it's important that you know how to adopt proper breastfeeding positions. Choosing the wrong posture can keep your baby from being well-fed and, at the same time, it can cause you problems such as backache and muscle strains. That's why you need to take the most suitable for both of you. There are many breastfeeding positions, but the most common ones are:
- Side-lying hold
- Cradle hold
- Rugby ball hold, also called underarm
No matter which one you use, keep your eyes peeled for your little one's reaction. Is he comfortable and relaxed? Is he latching well? If so, you've got it.
What should I eat when breastfeeding?
Nursing mummies can have pretty much a normal diet, though there are certain foods to avoid when breastfeeding. Keep in mind that everything you eat gets directly into your milk, so you need to stay away from choices that can affect your little one's development. For example, you can't drink alcohol at all, and you also need to limit the amount of caffeine up to two or three cups of coffee a day (maximum). In addition, doctors advise against consuming high-mercury fish, such as shark and swordfish, because the high level of their neurotoxins can damage babies' brains. If you can, keep spicy food away as well, because it's linked to colic in newborns!
Most typical breastfeeding problems
Unfortunately, all that glitters isn't gold and breastfeeding can entail some disadvantages too. These are the usual ones:
- Latching problems: if your baby doesn't latch on your breast properly, you may end up having sore nipples, which is pretty painful. If it persists, you'd better try shifting breastfeeding positions.
- Cracked nipples: first-timers may suffer from cracked nipples, because of different reasons: Your skin may be too dry or you may not be pumping as you should. Latching problems when breastfeeding are also related to cracked nipples, which can lead to bloody discharge.
- Clogged ducts: when breast milk doesn't drain all the way, that can plug ducts. Make sure that you express milk often enough, because this problem can cause infections.
- High milk supply: if your breasts get engorged, your child may have difficulties to latch on them.
- Low milk supply: some women come across this problem, generally caused by insufficient glandular tissue, endocrine problems, certain medication and suckling issues when breastfeeding the baby.
- Thrush: if your baby contracts a yeast infection, this can spread from his mouth to your breasts and provoke you itchiness, soreness and even a rash.
- Mastitis: clogged ducts and engorgement can result in this bacterial infection, known as mastitis. Its symptoms are flu-like ones, above all high temperature and breast pain.
Don't panic, because all of these breastfeeding problems have solutions. When dealing with latching pain and cracked nipples, be sure that you try out other breastfeeding positions that allow your child for better attachment. Avoid lotions and alcohol to treat your cracked nipples and use clean water or even your own milk to help them heal faster. If you are having engorgement problems and plugged ducts, you will have to massage and pump your breasts to get the milk flowing. Frequent hands-on pumping can also be helpful to stimulate milk movement, in case you are having a low supply. Finally, seek medical help if you get infected with thrush, which will need to be treated with antifungal medication.
Sometimes, though, breastfeeding itself can be hard! It’s normal to face difficulties when starting up even if you don’t have to face any of the problems listed above, specially if you are a first-time mummy. Take a look at these breastfeeding tips to have a few tricks to improve this milestone for both you and your child, and also, learn how to stop breastfeeding – it’s something you’ll need in the future!
When shouldn't I breastfeed my child?
There are a few and, in general, serious conditions that don't allow women to breastfeed their babies.
- Mums that carry HIV or have AIDS can't nurse their children, since they could contract the virus through their mothers' milk.
- There are also many medications that, taken when breastfeeding, could harm the newborn. If you need a special treatment, schedule an appointment with your doctor and don't keep any doubts to yourself.
- Cancer treatment, like chemotherapy medications, keep new mums from breastfeeding, because these drugs slow the cell division process and that could have a terrible impact on their babies' development.
- Mothers who suffer from an active tuberculosis and other diseases, like T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II, need to find alternative ways to nurture their newborns.
- Mothers who take illegal drugs, such as heroin, cocaine or marijuana.
- Mummies that can't produce enough milk. Stress and anxiety can cause this breastfeeding problem.
- Babies who have a condition called galactosemia, which makes them unable to tolerate and digest milk, can't be breastfed either. They'll need a special diet instead.
Baby formula, the best alternative to breastfeeding
If you are not able to breastfeed, don't fall apart... there are good alternatives! You should contact a lactation consultant to get emotional support, when needed, and look for the best option for you and your son or daughter. As you know, the benefits of formula feeding are also worth it: more flexibility for you (baby formula isn't given on demand), more physical relief and a non-required diet may make your life much easier. In case you still want your child to be breastfed no matter what, consider donated breast milk. There are milk banks that offer this possibility, as long as your baby meets certain criteria.
Some mums that can't nurse their newborns have a really bad time accepting it, but they shouldn't. It's not their fault and that doesn't turn them into worse mothers, same as the conscious decision not to breastfeed doesn’t, either, whatever the reason: baby formula is a good and healthy alternative, and every woman has the right to choose how to face being a mum. And even if you stick to formula, you can still bond with your child!
Briefly, breastfeeding is the most natural and the best way to nurture a newborn, but it's not the only one. As you can see, it's very beneficial for both you and your child, but it can also lead to physical discomfort and painful conditions. So now that you know so much about breastfeeding, trying it out is up to you.