Breast Milk and Breastfeeding or Formula?
Choosing whether to breast feed or formula feed your baby is one of the early decisions you will face once your child has been born. There is no right or wrong choice, the issue is what is best given your situation. This page focuses on breastfeeding. If you decide not to breast feed, please visit the page Formula Feeding on the website PregnancyAndChildren.com
Throughout the last stages of pregnancy a woman's body produces hormones which stimulate the growth of the milk duct system in the breasts. During the last stage of pregnancy, the pregnant woman's breasts are making colostrum (a thick, sometimes yellowish fluid) and, after the baby is born and begins to nurse, this colostrum is the first milk the baby gets. After a baby has been nursing for 3-4 days, the colostrum changes into mature breast milk. At this stage, milk production follows the law of supply and demand. The more milk the baby takes the more milk the breast will produce and, if you do not breast feed, the milk supply will stop on its own or your health care provider may suggest a way to facilitate stopping your production of milk.
It is important to note and remember that the process of breastfeeding is not necessarily natural or second nature to either the mother or the baby. It often involves trial and error for both you and the baby. Do not be alarmed if your baby drops a little weight at first since it is very common for most babies to lose up to 10% of their body weight in the first several days after birth. Often a woman's milk may take a few days or longer to come in and both you and your baby have to learn how to work with each other and about proper positioning of the breast for feeding purposes.
Breastfeeding can have both physical and emotional benefits for both you and your baby. Breast feeding protects your newborn from illnesses through the antibodies that are present in breast milk. Antibodies are made by your body's immune system and they help fight off illnesses. Through your breast milk, you give your baby immunities to illnesses to which you are immune and also those to which you have been exposed. Breastfeeding has been shown to help protest your baby against many illnesses, including ear infections, upper and lower respiratory ailments, allergies, intestinal disorders, and colds. Breastfeeding also encourages your uterus to contract more quickly and this helps to decrease bleeding after the birth.Breastfeeding can also help you to return to her previous weight as the fat accumulated during pregnancy is used in milk production.
What about the Mother's Nutrition when Breastfeeding?
If you are going to breast feed your baby, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies should be breast fed exclusively (no formula, water, juice, non-breast-milk, or food) for the first 6 months. If you follow this recommendation, then the nutritional requirements of the baby must be satisfied solely by the breast milk and it is important for you to maintain a healthy lifestyle and healthy nutrition.
Some breastfeeding advisers suggest a breastfeeding woman avoid certain foods, such as beans, cauliflower, or broccoli if the baby starts to develop colic or gas. Foods that a nursing mother should steer clear of include peanuts and peanut butter. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that although it is best not to consume alcohol, you may be able to have one or two drinks a week without causing any harm to your breastfeeding baby. Heavy alcohol consumption is known to harm the infant, causing problems with the development of motor skills and decreasing the speed of weight gain.
Regarding the intake of caffeine through tea, soda, coffee, and chocolate, it is best to limit the amount of caffeine you consume while breastfeeding. Excessive caffeine consumption by the mother can cause irritability, sleeplessness, nervousness and increased feeding in the breastfeeding baby.
Where Can I Find Additional Sources of Information?
For additional information about breastfeeding please visit La Leche League International or call La Leche at 800-LA LECHE. Additional sources of good information are:
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