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Is Breastfeeding Best for Infants?
"Breast is Best"?
My first child is due in a couple of weeks, and my wife and I have spent the last few months getting everything ready for the little one's arrival. Early on we had 'the discussion' about how we were going to feed our child.
Breast milk is the perfect food for your baby. It is available on demand, at the right temperature and has huge benefits for both you and your baby. The final decision about breastfeeding is absolutely, unquestionably, down to the mother. Whilst breast is best, bottle-feeding is an adequate method of feeding.
The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months. This is based on reviews of every major breastfeeding study conducted since 2001. Even if you cannot face this length of breastfeeding, it is strongly recommended that you breast feed for the first few days. Studies show that in the first few days after birth, breast milk gives your baby:
"a superconcentrated boost of special infection fighting milk" (NHS Start4life)
This can prevent your baby from getting ill in the first few weeks. But the benefits don't stop there...
Would you breastfeed your child?
What are the Benefits of Breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding benefits both Mum and Baby. Not only is it great for bonding with your baby, there are health benefits:
Benefits for Mum:
- It lowers the risk of breat and ovarian cancer.
- It naturally uses up 500 calories a day - great for shifting the baby weight!
- It saves money - formula feeding can cost up to $45 ($70).
Benefits for Baby:
- It protects your baby from serious infections of the ear and chest, as well as gastroenteritis. (So fewer hospital visits in the first months!)
- It lowers the chances of baby getting constipated. (Breast milk is easier for baby to digest)
- It reduces the chances of developing eczema.
- It lowers the likelihood of becoming obese and developing diabetes in later life.
- Children breastfed for 6months or more show a higher IQ score than those given formula.
Your baby will benefit from breastfeeding for any length of time. Howver, each month of breastfeeding lowers the risk of illnesses that can put your baby into hospital. Infant formula cannot give your baby all this protetion because it is not uniquely made for your baby. Only your body can make milk that can protect a baby from infection.
Formula vs. Breastfeeding
Unique to your baby, and their stage of development
Mass produced based on the needs of the 'average' baby
Contains vitamins, minerals, nutrients and antibodies
Contains vitamins, minerals and nutrients
Can cost up to £45 per month ($70)
Supply tailored by your body to meet the demands of baby
If baby suddenly starts feeding more, you will have to go for a late night formula run
Made for baby so easily digested. This prevents constipation and allergic reactions.
Made from cow's milk and other ingredients. Some babys find this more difficult to digest, or even have mild allergic reactions.
Lowers risk of cancer, diabetes and obesity later in life.
Positions for Breastfeeding
How Do I Know my Baby is Latched?
Breastfeeding Tips and Advice
When baby is positioned correctly, and you are relaxed, breastfeeding should feel easy and natural. There are some things you can do to ensure a successful feeding.
Latching your baby
- You should be sat or lying comfortably, with baby's tummy facing your tummy. You may wish to use a pillow for extra support.
- Baby's head should be level with your nipple. You don't want baby to have to crane or lean to latch on.
- You may need to tease baby with your nipple to get him/her to open their mouth wide enough.
- Baby should have all the nipple and most of the areola in his/her mouth so that the gums are well behind the base of your nipple.
- Baby's nose and chin should be gently pressed against your breast, and the sucking shouldn't hurt.
- When latched properly, baby's mouth should be wide open, with the nipple drawn deeply into the mouth. You will see the muscle in front of the ear working as baby sucks.
- To break the seal on your nipple without baby painfully tugging, place your (clean) little finger into baby's mouth. This will break the seal and allow you to reposition your baby or move baby if he/she has fallen asleep.
- You should allow baby to feed for as long as they are sucking properly. When sucking slows or he/she starts falling asleep, take the opportunity to delatch and wind your baby. If baby is still hungry, you can relatch onto the second breast.
- Your baby will feed until they are full. This could take ten minutes or up to an hour, depending on how quickly your milk flows and how strongly baby sucks.
There are many myths circulating about breastfeeding; some are cited by reluctant mums as reasons they don't breastfeed. Let's take a look at a few of the common breastfeeding myths:
- Lots of mums just can't breastfeed: False - only 2% of women are physically unable to breastfeed. It can take a while to get the hang of it though. It often helps to get someone to show you the right way to hold and feed your baby.
- It doesn't make any difference if you top up baby with formula after the first few days of breastfeeding: False This is not as good as exclusively breastfeeding. Giving infant formula can reduce the protection your baby gets from your milk. The more breast milk they get, the more easily they can fight off infections.
- You should wake baby to feed them: False - unless jaundiced or premature, babies should not be woken for a feed. Baby will let you know when he/she is hungry. You may find that your baby 'cluster feeds' - feeds more often at certain times of day - this is perfectly normal.
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Bottle Feeding and Formula
Feeding from a bottle may freak out baby's at first. Bottle feeding and breastfeeding require completely different tongue positioning and techniques on the baby's part. If you move on to bottle feeding, or feed exclusively using bottles, there are some things you need to bear in mind:
- Pumped milk should be stored in feed-sized amounts
- Breast milk can be stored at room temperature for six hours, in the fridge for up to a week, and in the freezer for 12 months.
- Formula should never be made up in advance. Make up each feed as needed.
- Formula should be made up exactly according to instructions. Do not concentrate it if your baby is hungrier - this can be dangerous. Instead, give your baby extra feeds. Equally, never try to 'stretch' formula by adding more water than usual or diluting ready-to-serve formulas.
Never leave baby to feed on their own, with the bottle propped up. They can easily choke. Also, you may need to experiment with different sized teats for your bottle. As most bottle companies have made bottles and nipples that are not interchangeable, you should hold off on buying large numbers of a particular bottle until you know your baby will use it.
Nipples can get very sore in the early stages of breastfeeding, but they soon toughen up! Use nipple cream to soothe until your nipples are no longer sore.
Nursing Pads provide discrete protection from leakage, helping to keep your clothing and skin clean and dry.
Breast Feeding and Dads
Breastfeeding is a great way to bond with your baby and, as a result, can leave Dad feeling quite left out. It also means that all nightfeeds could fall to Mum! You should discuss this with your partner.
One way Dad can make up on this bonding is to bottle feed using expressed breast milk. There are a number of breast pumps, both electronic and manual, available on the market. It is also worth storing some breast milk, particularly in the first few weeks when your supply can be more intermittent.
If you don't feel comfortable expressing milk, there are other ways Dad can bond with baby (just remember you cannot expect any help with the night feeds!):
- Bathing baby.
- Morning Nappy change.
- Winding/burping baby.
- Settling baby - this is particularly effective. Babies can smell their mother's milk and this can prevent them from settling. Dads can feel particularly smug about this.
Breast feeding Clothes
Nursing shawls can provide privacy when breastfeeding in public. They can also be used as sun covers for strollers or as a lightweight blanket.
Buying tops that can be used in pregnancy and for nursing will save you money in the long run.
Breast Feeding in Public
Many women feel uncomfortable breast feeding in public. You may feel people are staring or talking about you, or even disapprove of you doing this. This can make trips out as a family very difficult.
You must remember that breast feeding is the most natural way to feed your child. You can politely remind people that it is rude to stare, or just ignore them.
My wife, however, has found a number of ingenious pieces of clothing designed to make breast feeding in public much easier and more private. The most useful of these is her nursing shawl. This covers both baby and breast whilst breast feeding so nobody can see anything. The shawl is very thin and designed to flow easily over baby's head, meaning there is no risk of it disturbing the feed. My wife has also purchased a number of nursing tops and bras, with discrete openings for breast feeding. This prevents having to lift your entire top to feed your little one and helps you feel more comfortable.
Help with Breastfeeding
- NCT - Feeding FAQs
The National Childcare Trust is the largest charity in the UK for parents. Their feeding pages has a wealth of advice from how breastfeeding works to breastfeeding positions to how to tell if your baby is feeding well
- Breastfeeding.com - Everything for the New Mom
Breastfeeding.com - breastfeeding information & support, video clips, directories of Doulas, Midwives, and Lactation Consultants, Ask an LC, and social networks for both moms and medical professionals.