What is breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is the method that mothers use to provide nutrition to their baby post giving birth. It is recommended that mother use this method exclusively for the first 6 months of the baby’s life. However, babies can be breastfed for longer. The World Health Organisation encourages mothers that if they wish, they can breastfeed for up to 2 years. Solid foods can be introduced after 6 months while breastfeeding continues.
Breastfeeding is a skill to be learnt by the mother. In the beginning, it can take some getting used to. But, with time you will know when and how to breastfeed your baby. It is important to watch and listen to your baby. This helps alert you to hunger cues and will help ensure your baby gets the quantity they need.
When and how to start breastfeeding
You usually start breastfeeding soon after the baby is born. Within 30-60 minutes the baby should be put to the your breast. It is important that skin to skin contact is achieved and that the baby latches on correctly. You should not lose contact until the baby has been fed. Once you are able to return home, the baby should be breastfed every 2-3 hours, or aim for at least 8 times a day.
What are the indications of a well breastfed infant?
- A well breastfed infant is alert, responsive and looks content
- Frequent wet nappies
- Bright yellow stools
- Distinct skin colour
- 6-8 wet diapers daily and frequent stools
Why is breastfeeding important for the baby?
- It reduces risk of childhood obesity
Breast milk compared to other milk contains important appetite controlling hormones called leptin and ghrelin, and only as much fat and protein as the baby requires which is not the case with other milk such as formula milk. The composition of the breast milk changes as per the baby’s nutrient requirements, protecting your baby against over-nutrition. This protective effect is increased depending on the amount of time the baby is breastfed for. For example, breastfeeding for less than 3 months provides a minor protective effect, while breastfeeding for more than 7 months provides a high level of protection.
- Reduces risk of infection and allergies
There is evidence that breastfeeding reduces the occurrence of infections such as respiratory tract and gastrointestinal tract infections in babies. Furthermore, allergic diseases such as asthma are less likely to develop if you have breastfed your baby.
- Reduces risk of diabetes
It is less likely that a baby will develop Type 1 diabetes if they have been breastfed because this ensures the baby has not been exposed to cow’s milk protein. It has been suggested that the mechanism by which babies develop Type 1 diabetes is through the exposure to the protein found in cow’s milk. Known as B-lactoglobulin, this protein affects the functions of pancreatic cells which can cause Type 1 diabetes. A reduction in Type 2 diabetes is also reported, which is possibly due to the effect that breastfeeding has on preventing obesity.
Why is breastfeeding important for the mother?
- Protects the mother against breast and ovarian cancer
According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, lactation is associated with a period of amenorrhea (lack of periods) and infertility. This alters the level of certain hormones known as androgens released that are associated with a higher risk of cancer. According to the research, the risk is lowered further with an increased duration of breastfeeding.
- Protects against Type 2 diabetes
Breastfeeding reduces the level of oestrogen for the mother which improves glucose metabolism, and hence reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Nutrient requirements of lactation
- Balanced diet: it is best to wait for 2 months post-pregnancy to consciously try to lose weight. This ensures an adequate supply of milk is produced. Milk production may be decreased if your intake is lower than 1800 calories a day. After 2 months, lifestyle changes can be made to promote a steady weight loss of no more than 2.3kg per month while still supporting adequate energy and nutrition.
- Protein: An additional 25g of protein is required for lactation which means is 71g of protein consumption a day. This should be discussed with the dietitian and doctor as this is dependent on your BMI. 71g a day may be too low for an overweight woman and too high for a woman with a lower body mass index.
- Fluids: Adequate amounts of water are required when breastfeeding. Allow your thirst to drive your fluid intake.
- Caffeine: Moderate amounts (less than 300mg) are acceptable.
- Alcohol: It is best to avoid alcohol when breastfeeding. There is no safe level of alcohol established for a nursing mother.
- Supplements: Vitamin and mineral intakes should be met through a balanced diet.
- Sufficient milk supply: Although new mothers tend to get anxious about this, insufficient milk supply is not a common problem among mothers who are well-fed, well-rested and relaxed. You should avoid using pacifiers when breastfeeding is required, eat a balanced diet, get good sleep and monitor your baby’s weight.
If possible, breastfeeding is the recommended method of providing nutrition to your baby exclusively for the first 6 months, and can continue for up to 2 years. It is the most natural method and ensures the baby receives all the essential nutrients required for proper growth. It also has long-term benefits for the mother such as reduced risk of breast cancer and a reduced risk of childhood obesity for the baby. Pregnant women should consult with their doctor and see a dietitian to gain more information and support.
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian and nutritionist Juhi Bhambhaney. If you have any questions regarding health and nutrition, make an appointment with one of our dietitians. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today.