Advantages of Breastfeeding
We enthusiastically recommend breastfeeding for our newborn patients. Breastfeeding has many advantages, the most important being that breast milk provides a strong boost in immunity for the newborn. White blood cells, antibodies, and other mediators of immunity are passed to the baby during breast feeding. This provides protection against infectious disease during the critical first few months of a baby’s life when immunity is naturally low. Although there is no guarantee, illness is rare in breast fed infants. Additionally, breastfeeding also helps protect against the development of allergies and the development of colic (crying).
Breast milk is the most nutritionally complete food that is available for babies. We have found that the composition of breast milk is WONDERFULLY COMPLEX! Breast milk is rich in anti-oxidants needed for eye health, rich in omega 3 fatty acids needed for brain health, rich in oligosaccharides (complex sugars) which are needed for intestinal health and rich in the building blocks of the immune system. These nutrients are in the right concentrations and in the right form for maximum growth.
This concept is called bio-availability. This is exemplified by iron that is contained in breast milk and formula. Breast milk contains only a small amount of iron. However, almost always, that small amount of iron is all that is needed for the baby because 50% of the iron in breast milk is absorbed. On the other hand, iron in formula is less than 1% absorbed by the baby. Therefore, formula must have a much higher concentration of iron than breast milk for the baby to absorb enough iron to meet their growth needs. Babies would be iron deficient and anemic if formula had the same amount of iron in it that breast milk does. In addition, iron is constipating and irritating to a baby’s stomach and intestines. No wonder breast fed babies are more contented than formula fed babies. They are exposed to less irritating iron in their gastrointestinal tract.
This is just one example of the superior aspects of breast milk and the bio-availability of nutrients. The nutrients are presented to the baby in a way that they can easily absorb them. Although infant formulas have come along way since evaporated milk and Karo syrup, our attempts to copy the composition of breast milk still fall short. At present, infant formula is far inferior to breast milk for optimum health in your child.
In addition, to breast feeding having anti-infectious factors and being nutritionally complete, it also promotes closer emotional bonds between the parents and the baby. Most breast feeding mothers feel that they are giving their babies a part of themselves which helps develop more satisfying relationships. We call this bonding. Breast milk is readily available, pre-warmed and cheap. At the time of birth, breast feeding helps the uterus contract so that mother loses less blood than if she didn’t breast feed. It also decreases the abdominal size of the woman faster than if she weren’t breast feeding. Breast feeding utilizes about 800 calories per day of maternal nutrients, which helps a mother lose the weight that she gained during the pregnancy.
Bottom line: breastfeeding is the optimal way to feed your baby.
The First Week of Breastfeeding
The first few days of breastfeeding are far different than what most people think and the second week of breastfeeding and beyond are different than the first week.
Here are a few facts:
- There is precious little breast milk present at the time of birth. The first milk that a mother produces is called colostrum. During the first couple of days after birth, there are only a few drops of this first milk present per breast. Later, each breast will produce 4 to 6 ounces per feeding. The mother instinctively knows that during those first two days her breasts are essentially empty. Please know that this is normal. Babies get very little breast milk in the first two to three days. So, what is a baby to live on during the first few days of life? Answer: what they are born with.
- Babies are born with an extra pound of water. That’s right, a baby is born with extra water to enable them to withstand the initial period of limited breast milk. Therefore, during the first few days of life, a baby will routinely lose that one pound of weight, a few ounces per day of life. Babies who are breast fed will generally begin to gain weight on the third to fifth day of life.
- Mother’s can typically tell when a baby begins to gain weight, because they can feel the breast milk “come in”. A mother’s breast will get heavy and feel full or tight when it is filled with breast milk. If the breast milk is not drained from the breast during this time, engorgement may occur.
- After the fourth day, breast milk should be in and the baby should begin to gain back the lost weight. The third to the fifth day of life is also the time that we like to examine babies in our office. We check for weight loss, how feedings are going, jaundice, and any sign of infection at this check up.
Common Problems Associated with Breastfeeding
- Engorgement: Engorgement refers to an overfilling of breast with breast milk. This is very common with first time mothers whose milk ducts are being used for the first time. The breast can be likened to a cluster of grapes. The individual grape (the acini) is where the breast milk is made. The stem of the cluster of grapes is like the milk ducts. The stems come together to form one common stem by which you hold the entire cluster of grapes, which is analogous to the nipple of the breast. With engorgement, the acini are overfilled with milk, the breast ducts are under pressure and the entire breast is tight and full. This prevents the emptying of the breast. This is treated with frequent breast feeding, breast pumping with an electric breast pump, massage, warmth and relaxation.
- Sore nipples: Sore nipples are generally caused by trauma inflicted by the suck of the baby. A woman’s nipples are quite tender and vulnerable to trauma. This is treated by appropriately positioning the baby with the tip of the nipple in the back of the baby’s mouth. In addition, if the breast are already tender, get some Hydrogels and wear them on the tip of your nipple. This will prevent the scab that is formed from attaching to the breast pad and prolonging healing. You can purchase Hydrogels at Expressly for You here in Little Rock on the Baptist Health Medical Center campus.
- Mastitis: Mastitis is an infection of the breast that is usually related to engorgement. This condition causes a fever in mother along with red streaks on the breast and soreness of the breast. It is treated with antibiotics.
For more information on breast feeding and the initiation of breast feeding, see our nutrition page.