Breastfeeding is a wonderful way to feed an infant. Each mother's breast milk is uniquely formulated for her own baby and is full of infection-fighting cells and protein that will help keep a baby both happy and healthy. Breastfeeding can be enjoyable for both you and your baby. It may take some practice at first, but there are many, many reasons to give breastfeeding your best effort.
The Benefits for Babies
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies for at least the first year of life, and exclusively for the first six months. Breastfed children are less likely to have ear infections, allergies, vomiting, diarrhea, pneumonia, juvenile diabetes, and meningitis. New data also suggest that breast milk enhances your baby's brain growth. Breast milk is easier for babies to digest than formula, cow's milk, or goat's milk. It contains all the right minerals and the right balance of nutrients. And breast milk is convenient: It's free, and it's always ready when your baby is hungry, with no preparation involved. The health benefits continue for as long as a mother and her baby want to keep breastfeeding.
The Benefits for Mothers
Breastfeeding provides definite health benefits for you as well as your baby. Besides being an ideal way to closely bond with your new child, nursing helps stimulate hormones that shrink your uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size. Breastfeeding also helps you lose weight after pregnancy because it uses up the special kind of fat you gained with pregnancy before it becomes an established part of your body shape. Nursing helps you lose that weight at exactly the right pace. You don't want to lose too much weight right after giving birth, though. Nursing women need an extra 5 to 10 pounds over their pre-pregnancy weight to keep their body healthy while they nourish their child. If you lose weight too rapidly, it could hurt your milk supply when your baby has a growth spurt and needs to eat more. Those extra pounds will slip away naturally over the first six months.
What to Expect at First
Your breast milk will come in a few days after your baby is born. Until then, your breasts will be busy producing colostrum for your baby to drink instead. This thick, yellowish substance is full of protein and antibodies that will help your baby fight off diseases. Colostrum is intended to be your baby's very first food and his first "immunization" against diseases. He has lots of stored water and fat to use while he takes in this precious material. His tummy can only hold a teaspoon of liquid at this age, so he doesn't need a lot to fill it.
Before your milk comes in fully, your newborn may start nursing every hour for the first day or two of life. This helps your body create a good milk supply, one perfectly tailored to your baby's needs. In just two to four days, your body will adjust itself to this "information," and your baby will need to nurse less often, about every two to three hours, or 8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period.
Establishing a Good Milk Supply
When you are nursing, good nutrition, plenty of fluids, and rest are all essential. Try to sleep when the baby sleeps and drink plenty of healthy liquids — milk, water, and juice are all good options. You will need to maintain a basic healthy diet to keep up your breast milk production, but you don't need anything fancy. Some breastfeeding babies are quite sensitive to certain things in their mother's diet, but most do well no matter what you eat. In general, your body reacts to your baby's hunger: If he doesn't eat much, you won’t produce as much, and if he eats a lot, you'll produce a lot!
When to Feed Your Baby
Feed your hungry newborn on demand — that is, whenever he wants to eat. He won't eat much at any one feeding in the first days since his stomach is so small, but he'll want to nurse often. Most newborns will need about 10 to 12 feedings in a 24-hour period, or one feeding every one to three hours. When establishing your milk supply, wake your baby up to feed if he sleeps more than three hours during the day or four hours during the night. Otherwise he'll wake up too hungry to feed well. When things get up and running, he'll wake you up as he needs to.
How Much Is Enough?
Like lots of breastfeeding mothers, you might not be sure when your baby has had enough to eat. You will know she is getting something if you can hear her swallowing as she nurses. Another clue is how well your baby sleeps after a meal. If her tummy is full and her diaper is clean, she will probably fall right back to sleep after feeding.
Other signs your newborn is getting enough to eat:
She produces about six wet diapers every day after your milk comes in and between two and five loose, yellowish stools each day until she's 6 weeks old. Some babies are such efficient breast milk processors that they pass stools very infrequently.
Her urine is a pale yellow, not deep yellow or orange.
Your breasts feel soft and "empty" after each feeding.
How Much Is Not Enough?
Occasionally you may feel that your baby isn't getting enough milk. Your baby may seem hungry after a prolonged feeding, and yet you feel "empty." This is nature's way of making your milk supply keep up with your baby's growth spurts.
To help you increase your milk production when this happens, nurse frequently as your baby demands. You also need to drink more fluids and get enough rest. This may mean that for a day or two, you may have to divert more time to nursing and resting yourself than to your other activities. Be assured that your baby is fine as long as she feeds vigorously and continues to urinate and stool normally. Your increased milk supply will meet her adjusted need.
It takes about 36 to 48 hours for your body to adjust to your baby's increased needs. It's your baby's job to nurse frequently enough to give your body the right signals. So let her do her job. All nursing mothers go through brief periods where supply doesn't meet demand. Nature's way of meeting this increased demand is for the baby to nurse. Relax and enjoy these natural rhythms.