by Hshkeni Richemond BSN, MSN
The benefits of breastfeeding are numerous. So much so that it is impossible to list all the benefits here. But let’s start with the obvious, it’s free! It is amazing what women’s bodies, are capable of doing. Breastfeeding is one of those amazing processes. So, let us begin with an understanding what is going on in the breast.
Women produce milk in order to feed their infants. This process begins before you know it, about four months into pregnancy. However, most women will not see this milk until after the birth of their baby. After birth, the woman’s body undergoes a hormonal shift that signals the breast to produce milk. The baby is then placed on the breast to feed. While you are bonding with and feeding your baby, this action signals your brain to release milk.
So here’s a little background on what to expect when breastfeeding for the first time. Seeing breastmilk for the first time can be surprising. The first milk that comes out the breast is actually yellowish in color, thick, and small in quantity. Do not let the small amount fool you, it is enough for your baby’s little stomach. This first milk that your breast produces is called colostrum and this is the milk you will see for the first few days of breastfeeding. This colostrum then transforms into a thinner, whiter fluid that we all know as breastmilk. The more breastfeeding or breast pumping you do, the more milk you produce. It’s a simple phenomenon of supply and demand. There is no recommended schedule for feeding, just that you feed your baby when he or she desires and at least 8 times in a 24-hour period. Additionally, the benefits of breastfeeding are optimal when you feed your baby breastmilk, exclusively, for at least the first six months of his or her life.
The hype of breastmilk is due largely in part to the benefits for not only your baby, but for yourself as well. Yes, breastfeeding also benefits you! To begin with the benefits for your baby, breastfeeding has the potential to help your baby fight infections, especially respiratory tract infections and ear infections. Breastmilk is packed with proteins, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals to give your baby the best start in life. Breastfed infants have a lower risk of long term problems such as asthma, diabetes, and obesity. So if such problems affect your family, this may be motivation to stick with breastfeeding.
There are also numerous benefits for you, but here are just a few amazing, and enticing ones. Breastfeeding mothers tend to lose their weight gained during pregnancy at a faster rate than mothers who do not breastfeed; breastmilk has properties that help protect the breast tissue from infections; lastly, breastfeeding releases hormones that help your uterus return to its original size and consequently reduces your risk for excessive bleeding after you give birth.
Many women wonder if breastfeeding is for them, if they will produce enough breastmilk, if the process will hurt, or if they will have the time to breastfeed. It is completely normal to have all these concerns and questions. To begin with, there are very few exceptions to breastfeeding. If you are concerned about the safety of breastfeeding, speak to your midwife to determine if this will the best option for you and your baby. If you have any other breastfeeding concerns, no questions are off limits. This is an opportunity to discuss your worries with your midwife. Lastly, I encourage each mother to take a course on breastfeeding before delivery and if you are breastfeeding, take some time to visit a breastfeeding support group.
Resource: Wellstart International. (2013). Lactation Management Self-Study Modules, Level I, Fourth Edition, Shelburne, Vermont: Wellstart International.