Breastfeeding or bottle-feeding? Breast milk or formula? Formula mixed with breast milk? Pumping exclusively, or breastfeed for 2-3 years? When it comes to feeding your baby, there are several options available to you, and the good news is, there is no wrong answer for the choice you make!
Even though this blog post is about the benefits of breastfeeding, and while it’s a proven fact that breastmilk has the most benefits for a growing infant, we understand that we can’t cover this topic without first expelling some myths and misconceptions first.
Unfortunately, many women struggle with extremely deep and complicated emotions when it comes to the simple act of breastfeeding their babies. Many of these emotions come from culture, society, peer, or family pressure. But we affirm that just because the benefits of breastfeeding are the most natural and nutritious, it does not mean that we promote or expect women to exclusively breastfeed. The choice is solely yours, and we want you to be educated before making that choice.
As you scour the internet for information and as you listen to other mother’s opinions, it’s important to remember three things when it comes to feeding your baby.
No two women (or babies) are the same. You must follow your instincts and your personal needs. Just because your best friend can pump 5 bottles at a time, does not mean that your body is able to do that. Women who are underweight or women who struggle with health issues, or mothers who work, might not be able to sustain their baby’s needs and will need to supplement with either formula or a breastmilk donor. Often doctors and friends will be so excited about you breastfeeding that you don’t want to let them down and admit it if you are struggling. But if you are unhappy, your baby will be unhappy too. These feelings will not lead to a bigger milk supply (in fact it will deplete it!) Always trust, honor, and follow your instincts! The path to “feeding success” is not only finding a plan and routine that works for you but also spending quality time with your new baby as you feed them. You are a unique woman with unique needs and a lifestyle that is different from others. Never let someone shame you for choosing not to breastfeed.
2. Fed is best! At the end of the day, what makes you a good mom is that you feed your child when they are hungry. How you fed them isn’t up to you. There are many ways to feed your baby, but the important thing is that their little belly is full. Remember that you are a good mom because you fed your baby!
3.You are not a bad mother if you can’t breastfeed. So many women struggle with mom guilt if they can’t achieve their breastfeeding goals. Slogans you use for motivation like “breast is best” doesn’t help either, as you try for the 90th time to pump more than 2 oz. Slogans, posters, and phrases tossed around by lactation consultants should not define you as a mother. Likewise, how well you produce milk does not define you. Remind yourself that you are a good mom and that you just need a new plan of action. Legitimate reasons a woman can’t breastfeed her baby include things like: first-time moms might struggle more than an experienced mom, or a first-time mother’s hormones might not produce as much milk as a second-time mom, or your baby might not want to breastfeed at all! These are issues that are out of your control. If you can’t breastfeed, that’s ok! You are an amazing mom for the simple fact that you care enough to worry about and are for your baby. And more importantly, in the eyes of your baby, you are the best!
Remember, if you are struggling with breastfeeding you are not alone! Thousands of women struggle with it too. It’s easy to feel alone when starting out, but this is an issue you can discuss with your OBGYN. They can refer you to a lactation consultant in your community to help you with hands-on techniques and tips. There are also many blogs and online mommy groups that are a lifeline for mothers. Your local Pregnancy Resource Center will also offer information and support, as well.
Never assume you are alone! You can do this!
Now that we clarified those common misconceptions, hopefully, you feel free to explore the many benefits of breastfeeding!
The Benefits Of Breastfeeding
Breastmilk is a superfood that scientists have yet to completely recreate. It’s packed with immune-boosting vitamins and minerals that are vital for protecting your baby from the germs in their environment (like when they decide to lick the tabletop at a restaurant or chew on an old shoe. *facepalm*)
But going beyond germs, breastmilk is proven to help aid almost every part of a baby’s development, carrying the effects into adulthood! Because breastmilk is so easily digested, it helps curb common infant struggles like eczema and it fights against other allergies. And because of these superior digestible qualities, it is not as common for your baby to struggle with issues like diarrhea, upset stomach, and constipation. It is also an interesting fact that breastfed babies are less likely to pass away from SIDS than formula-fed babies. Researchers still don’t know why or how, but it is no less a documented fact.
Another benefit to breastmilk is the effect it has preventing the baby’s body from developing diseases in the future. The immune-boosting benefits of breastmilk are truly incredible! The white blood cells and immune factors that pass through breastmilk fight off diseases like type 1 diabetes, lymphoma, and childhood obesity! Interestingly enough, formula-fed babies were more likely to become obese than breastfed babies.
Another powerful benefit of breastfeeding is the bonding agent. Thanks to science, we now understand the power skin-to-skin contact has on a newborn baby. According to Sanford Health, “Researchers say a baby in skin-to-skin contact with the mother stimulates a specific part of the newborn’s brain.” They go on to say that these are the benefits of skin-to-skin:
Better able to absorb and digest nutrients
Better body temperature maintenance
Cries less often
Demonstrate improved weight gain
Experience more stable heartbeat and breathing
Higher blood oxygen levels
Long-term benefits, such as improved brain development and function as well as parental attachment
More successful at breastfeeding immediately after birth
Spend increased time in the very important deep sleep and quiet alert states
Stronger immune systems
As you can see, when you breastfeed your baby it is much more soothing and stimulating than a bottle.
NOTE: mothers should never worry that they are not bonding with their child if they use a bottle. If you are worried about a lack of bonding experience, however, there are many ways to do so! Spend extra time reading to them, singing, and talking to them while you move around the house. Eye contact is also a very powerful bonding experience! Bottle-fed babies don’t love their moms less!
The benefits of breastfeeding are not all for the baby! Breastfeeding has some amazing perks for you too! According to Parents.com breastfeeding, “Heals your body after delivery. The oxytocin released when your baby nurses help your uterus contract, reducing post-delivery blood loss. Plus, breastfeeding will help your uterus return to its normal size more quickly—at about six weeks postpartum, compared with 10 weeks if you don't breastfeed.”
However, most women find that the most exciting part of breastfeeding is that it helps melt off all the baby fat collected during pregnancy. You won’t be able to hit the gym for quite a few weeks after birth, and that’s okay! Your metabolism kicks into hyperdrive as it burns your fat and turns it into food for your baby. It’s estimated that you burn between 300-500 calories a day. Breastmilk contains 20 calories per ounce, which means if your baby eats 20 oz a day, you will have burned 400 extra calories! Can you say, “Hello, Beachbody!”
You might also notice mild contractions when your baby starts to feed. This is because breastfeeding triggers your uterus to shrink back to its normal size, which will make you feel your pre-baby body sooner. You also lower your risk for certain cancers like breast and ovarian when you breastfeed, which is always amazing!
Hate your period? If you exclusively breastfeed, it can delay menstruation for up to a year. Breastfeeding triggers prolactin, which keeps estrogen and progesterone at bay so ovulation isn’t prompted to start. Women who breastfeed exclusively around the clock can enjoy this perk, which also triggers natural birth control since your body isn’t as likely to ovulate if you are not menstruating. (Note: nursing as a form of birth control should always be discussed with your doctor.)
Even though breastfeeding has the most health benefits, only you know what is best for you and your family. Your most important responsibility is to spend time enjoying your new baby, taking care of them as best you can, and focusing on the new life you just made!
If you have any questions about breastfeeding and want to learn more, call us today for more information!