The milk developed during pregnancy and just after birth is often referred to as liquid gold. Colostrum is rich in nutrients and antibodies to help give a new baby a healthy start in life. It contains a substance called secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA) which builds a protective layer along your baby’s nose, throat, and intestines. A mother’s body produces colostrum for a short period before it changes into mature milk. Thinner than colostrum, mature milk contains fat, sugar, water, and protein to keep your baby growing. Mature milk contains the nutrients and antibodies that your baby needs, and still continues to build the protective layers with IgA. As your body encounters pathogens, it will create defenses against those threats; and those defenses will be passed to your baby through breast milk.
Studies are beginning to show that breast milk reduces the risk of many infant and childhood diseases. Formula-fed babies do not receive the cells, hormones, and antibodies that breastfed babies receive. It takes time for their little stomachs to learn how to digest other food sources because mother’s milk is easier to take in, especially for premature or sick babies. Breastfed babies are less likely to develop diabetes, childhood cancers, asthma, and allergies as children; and breastfed babies are at a lower risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Scientists attribute these benefits to IgA.
Evidence has been found of increased intelligence and better cognitive development in children who were breastfed as babies; and the longer the baby was fed, the higher the intelligence levels. Breastfed babies have a much lower chance of developing obesity as a teen or adult. Experts think that breastfed babies are given healthier feeding patterns that serve them well through life, since they take in less insulin with mother’s milk and are given hormones to help regulate appetite and the development of fat.
Breastfeeding offers many benefits to you as well as your baby. Breastfeeding your baby gives you the chance to sit in a quiet and calm space while enjoying your new baby. The release of oxytocin during breastfeeding helps you to relax. It also helps your uterus to contract after the birth of your baby, and to lower your blood pressure. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of postpartum depression and studies have shown that the longer you breastfeed, the more protected you are against breast and ovarian cancer.
Breastfeeding is natural, but it’s not easy. It’s a skill that both you and your baby have to learn. It will take time for you and your baby to settle into a good routine; but once you do, breastfeeding is much easier than feeding your baby formula. It will save you the hassle of measuring formula, warming bottles, and cleaning and sterilizing bottle parts. Breastfeeding will save you the cost of all the formula and supplies, which can cost $1500 or more a year. Studies show that breastfed babies are less prone to illness and disease, which can potentially save on medical costs.
Most important, breastfeeding is a vital bonding experience between a mother and her baby. Skin to skin contact between you and your baby is important for your health, your baby’s health, and your body’s role in providing for the baby. It can be very beneficial for you to take some quiet time with your new baby, away from the hustle and noise of life.
With so much awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and the baby, some mothers who are unable to breastfeed are made to feel like inadequate mothers. Some mothers have medical conditions that make it inadvisable for them to breastfeed their baby. These mothers often produce plenty of milk, but due to disease or medication, their milk is dangerous for the baby. They will often purchase a breast pump to relieve the swelling and discomfort of engorged breasts.
Some mothers find themselves unable to produce enough milk. A mother’s milk supply can be lessened from exhaustion, anxiety, or depression; all conditions that can be common to a new mother. Some mothers’ bodies are simply unable to produce enough milk to satisfy the baby. For many of these mothers, a combination of breastfeeding and formula feeding may be the answer.
While breastfeeding your baby is best, do not let anyone make you feel like a failure if you unable to breastfeed exclusively. If your doctor or lactation consultant is unsympathetic to your situation, find a new one. If you are struggling to provide enough milk for your baby, you need a support network that will help you find the solutions that work for you and your baby.