Breast-feeding (nursing) allows a new mother to feed her infant directly from her breasts. Ideally, an infant will nurse and get milk directly from the mother's nipple but, when that is not possible, milk can be expressed (pumped) from the breast and fed to the infant in a bottle. Breast-feeding provides an infant with essential vitamins, protein and fat, as well as antibodies that help the immune system fight off bacteria and viruses. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), if physically possible, women should exclusively breast-feed their infants for at least the first 6 months of life.
Benefits of Breast-feeding
Breast-feeding is beneficial to both infant and mother. In addition to providing nutrition, breast milk is easier to digest than formula, and research has indicated that it may lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Nursing is also effective at building immunity in infants, and children who nurse have a lower risk of ear infections, asthma, obesity, respiratory infections and type 2 diabetes as they get older. Breast-feeding is also beneficial to the mother in the following ways:
- Uterus contracts and returns to normal size quickly
- May help with postpartum weight loss
- Lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancers
- Saves money on formula
Breast-feeding is also a good way for a mother and her baby to bond.
Possible Complications of Breast-feeding
Although the benefits of breast-feeding outweigh its complications, there are issues that may arise. They include the following:
- Nipple soreness
- Mastitis (breast infection)
- Blocked milk duct
- Infant has difficulty latching onto nipple
Both nipple pain and engorgement are usually early side effects of breast-feeding; they commonly subside after a nursing routine has been established. A woman with mastitis is encouraged to continue nursing, although she may be prescribed antibiotics. In some cases, mastitis clears up on its own. If a baby is unable to nurse, a mother can pump her breast milk and bottle-feed it to the baby.
Lifestyle Changes for Breast-feeding
A woman who is breast-feeding should increase her daily calorie intake by 450 to 500 calories. It is important to remember that anything a nursing mother consumes can be passed onto her baby through her breast milk. A nursing mother is also advised to do the following:
- Stay hydrated
- Avoid spicy foods
- Limit caffeine intake
- Avoid alcohol
- Avoid smoking and taking illegal drugs
A woman may be advised to continue taking prenatal vitamins while breast-feeding. She should always check with her doctor before taking any type of medication.
Although breastfeeding is a natural and healthy process that has advantages for both baby and mother, many new mothers struggle with breast-feeding. For this reason, there are often breast-feeding (lactation) classes available at most hospitals and doctors' offices. These classes are designed to give women specific answers to their questions about nursing and lactation, and help troubleshoot any problems they may have. Many pregnant women also opt to schedule lactation consultations, which can help them better understand the breast-feeding process and its benefits. Even a mother who has had success breast-feeding previously may need assistance with a new baby. A lactation consultant helps a patient achieve her breast-feeding goals, creates a feeding schedule, helps with positioning and pumping, and addresses any breast-feeding difficulties.