Breastfeeding has many health benefits for moms and babies. Some of the factors you will consider are personal, while others are based on medical facts. Breastfeeding is less expensive than formula feeding, and gives babies immunities and "good" bacteria that can help protect them from illness.
Gundersen Health System has a breastfeeding policy that helps us provide evidence-based care to breastfeeding families.
How does breastfeeding work?
Your body is preparing for breastfeeding throughout pregnancy. The first milk that is made is called colostrum. The amount produced is about equal to your newborn's stomach size. Milk production begins as soon as your baby is born. It increases daily in amounts that meet your baby's increasing stomach size. At birth, the baby's stomach is about the size of a marble. It increases over the course of the first few days and at the same time; the amount of milk your body is producing is also increasing. Because your baby's stomach is small, he or she may want to eat frequently in the first few days. Feed your baby when he or she is asking for food. If she is going long periods of time without feeding, try to awaken the baby by placing baby skin to skin or checking a diaper. The goal is to have baby nurse at least 8 times in a 24-hour period. Some babies may be very regular about how often they eat, but most babies are on their own clock. They may have several feedings close together and then take a longer break. Allow the baby to set the pattern.
Watch for signs that your baby is ready to eat. Crying is a late sign of hunger so try to catch the earlier signs for a good feeding:
- Mouthing movements
- Protruding tongue
- Rooting toward your chest
- Hand to mouth movements
- Hand sucking
You cannot feed your baby too much or spoil your baby by nursing in the early days of breastfeeding.
It is helpful to think about life from the baby's perspective. In fact, the baby doesn't know that he or she was born! When you were pregnant, your baby was fed and carried all the time. The baby heard your voice and heartbeat. The baby felt your motion and warmth. After the baby is born, he or she is not ready to go several hours without feeding or to be content by him or herself. Nursing is comforting to your baby and is not just about food. Babies feed frequently because they are growing a lot, their food is rapidly digested, they have small stomachs and they need the closeness for comfort.
Allow your baby to finish one side before offering the other side. Some babies need to be reminded to keep eating while they are at the breast. Gentle massage and compression of the breast may be enough to keep the baby on task. Tickling baby's feet or rubbing baby's head may also keep baby stimulated. Always offer the second side. Sometimes baby will want it and sometimes baby won't. At the next feeding, start on the side that was not drained as well.
Your baby does not need to suck on anything else for the first few weeks. Bottles and pacifiers do not feel the same or flow the same. Avoid them until breastfeeding is well established. This will help mom to have a better milk supply and baby will get adequate nutrition. Once breastfeeding is going well, most babies will switch between the breast and a bottle.
Breastfeeding is the gift of a lifetime, a gift that only a mother can give. Breast milk is the only food your baby needs for the first six months of life. Breast milk has all the nutrition and fluid your baby needs for the first 6 months, even in hot weather. Breast milk is better for your baby than any other food or fluid. Experts agree that breastfeeding your baby for any length of time provides rewards for both you and your baby.